Sue Dubuisson is a retired Thurston County District Court Judge, but retirement hasn't kept her out of the courtroom. She is a volunteer mediator with the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County and helps mediate cases in small claims court.
Through mediation, Dubuisson and other volunteers are helping citizens reach a settlement on their own to avoid having a judge issue the resolution. Small claims cases are limited to $5,000 in restitution, and those cases may involve anything from traffic accidents, damages to a property, or issues involving small businesses in the community.
"A judge can provide a monetary resolution, but money may not really settle things. If you are awarded money, you may not actually receive it," said Dubuisson. "Collecting money can be time consuming and costly, and in many cases it costs more to collect than what you are receiving."
Students at Capital High School in Olympia were able to see the mediation process firsthand on Wednesday, December 5, when District Court hit the road for their 'Court in the Classroom' program. Court in the Classroom stems from the Court's ethos of "Serving justice through serving people." District Court Judge Kalo Wilcox was the presiding judge for small claims court at the high school.
"The cases you'll see today are real cases involving people in our community," said Wilcox in her opening remarks. She also provided ground rules for conduct and explained the way a case is heard, including the mediation process.
The first case the students saw concerned a business transaction between a dog owner and dog breeder.
The plaintiff had adopted a dog from the breeder, but the dog fell ill and required veterinary care days after being brought home.
"Often times it comes down to preserving a relationship, said Dubuisson. "In this case the breeder was concerned about her reputation, and the dog owner was concerned about her dog being sick; money wasn't the issue."
The dog owner's original settlement request was for the breeder to pay for the veterinary visit, which cost more than $2,500. Dubuisson guided the two through a mediation process that took about 20 minutes. In that time they came to an agreement that left both parties feeling satisfied and understood.
"The dog owner agreed to split the veterinary payment in exchange for being allowed to write an online review that would include an acknowledgment the breeder worked with her to resolve the issue," said Dubuisson.
Dubuisson added that the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County is successful in mediating about half of all the cases they hear, and that district court judges have embraced mediation for many years.
"The Thurston County model has been copied around the state. It turns out we were pioneers, and judges from other jurisdictions saw the value in mediation," she said.
The Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County also helps people resolve conflicts outside of the courtroom– be it a neighborhood dispute with a homeowners association to helping parents create a parenting plan. You can learn more at http://www.mediatethurston.org.
To learn more about the Court in the Classroom program, visit https://www.knkx.org/post/judge-brings-court-olympia-high-school-students or http://nwlawyer.wsba.org/nwlawyer/sept_2018?pg=30#pg30.