MC3's Comment on California Legislation SB 940

Posted on April 22, 2024

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MC3 Response to CA SB 940MC3’s Comment on California Legislation SB 940

We know many of you are following the proposed legislation in California known as SB 940. MC3 Mediator Certification, Inc. (MC3) strongly supports legislation establishing procedures for the voluntary certification of mediators. However, MC3 has some concerns and suggestions about how Senate Bill 940 might accomplish this laudable goal. In recognition of the Senate Committee policies regarding qualified support and opposition, MC3 therefore opposes this bill.

“Dear Chair Umberg, Vice-Chair Wilk, and Members of the Judiciary Committee:

MC3 is a California non-profit corporation organized in 2015 to promote user and public confidence in the mediation process by setting standards for mediator training, education, and ethics, and by maintaining those standards through its voluntary certification program. (Additional information about MC3’s mission and history can be accessed at MC3’s comments specifically address certification of mediators because that is our area of expertise and activity. However, many of our comments may apply equally to certification of arbitrators and other types of ADR providers.”

Read the full text of our comment: MC3 Comment on California SB 940 (PDF)

MC3's Comment on California Legislation AB 924

Posted on June 20, 2023

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MC3 Response to CA AB924MC3’s Comment on California Legislation AB 924

We know many of you are following the proposed legislation in California known as AB 924, which proposes, among other things, State Bar oversight of complaints about mediators. MC3 vigorously opposes this legislation and believe issues with mediators are adequately handled through the process currently utilized by MC3 and the California courts. We encourage you to learn more about this proposed legislation, and for your information, we have linked to the full text below.

Dear Honorable Assembly and Senate Members:

MC3 commends the Legislature for its desire to protect Californians from unethical attorneys. What Thomas Girardi did is appalling. How the State Bar responded is devastating. But Assembly Bill 924 (AB 924) is not the solution because it fails to address the problem it seeks to solve and inappropriately relies on the State Bar—the institution that failed to stop Mr. Girardi’s misconduct—to regulate the conduct of non-attorneys.

Read the full text of our comment: MC3 Comment on CA AB 924 (PDF)


"This Really Is a Big Deal"

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“This Really Is a Big Deal”

By: Don Cripe, MC3 Certified Mediator & ADR professional

Several months ago, I wrote an article regarding the mediator certifying organization in California, MC3 Mediator Certification, Inc. (MC3). Within that article, I discussed the doubt expressed by some about the importance of such an organization. To reiterate, MC3, with which I have been affiliated since its conception, was organized not only to certify the credentials of California mediators, but to provide a vetting service for mediation consumers whether the general public or the legal profession. MC3 requires all mediators seeking MC3 certification to conquer a rigorous crucible verifying mediation training, experience, ethics, and general reputation before being granted a certificate.

One of the concerns I have always expressed about mediation practitioners has been though mediation has been a “thing” since the dawn of civilization in some form or another, when coupled with court-connected cases, mediation has been bootstrapped into the litigation process. Such a process can be remarkably effective by engaging experienced lawyers and judges as mediators. As helpful as that process was, because those volunteers were not trained in the important nuances of the mediation process, many settlement opportunities were missed. Basically, my concern was that “anyone can hang a shingle” claiming to be a mediator with or without training.

Moreover, in the earlier days of mediation as a court-connected process, participating lawyers often were disenchanted by the traditional settlement conference approach of most lawyer/judge mediators. As long-time litigators will recall, settlement conferences often began with the settlement officer asking the defense something like, “So, whatcha got to settle this?” If a party to litigation was anxious to settle and came to the settlement conference prepared to compromise to get the case settled, this process (particularly in court settlement conferences) was sometimes successful. That success often came at a price. Most seasoned litigators can tell stories of difficult settlement conferences in which the settlement officer “strong armed” a party or simply intimidated a party into settlement. Such a process is simply not mediation. No wonder many practitioners still confuse mediation with a settlement conference.

This is why using a certified mediator is so important. MC3-Certified mediators are necessarily trained to avoid the settlement conference approach, while being able to adapt the process to meet the needs of the case and are trained to be more subtle and persuasive without being intimidating.

MC3 certified mediators expressly agree to participate in the MC3 grievance process if a mediation participant has an issue with a mediator. As such, MC3 has built in many protections for mediation consumers in an effort to ensure the quality of the process.

Recently, one of the largest international ADR providers, the American Arbitration Association, has locked arms with MC3 thus recognizing the importance of the MC3 qualification process. The AAA recognizes MC3 vetted panel applicants as being a step ahead in qualification as opposed to applicants who are not.[1] As such, despite the attitude of one of my colleagues around the time of my previous article that MC3 certification, “Doesn’t mean anything,” AAA’s recognition and affiliation with MC3 clearly indicates that an MC3 certification means a lot to the legal community.

Don Cripe is a retired civil litigator, current Arbitrator and MC3 Certified Mediator with over 25 years’ mediation experience. Don teaches mediation in law school and is a co-founder of California Arbitration & Mediation Services.

[1] This article does not purport to represent any of the AAA policies and procedures. Only the importance of the recognition by AAA of the professional credibility and importance of MC3.

In memory of Lynn Johnson

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Lynn Johnson

In Memory of Lynn JohnsonLynn Johnson served as the executive director and technology advisor for MC3 Mediator Certification, Inc. (“MC3”) from November 2019 until he passed away unexpectedly on the night of January 29, 2023. Lynn volunteered many years for several mediation organizations in California and Oregon, mediating hundreds of cases and completing over 150 hours of mediation training. Lynn transitioned to mediation after a career in statistics, research, computer technology, and consulting, looking for an application of his softer science skills. His mediation study and practice ranged from basic mediation to court-connected and community mediation to parent-and-teen and restorative-justice environments. He made a permanent, positive impact on the lives of the many people whose problems he mediated. As the executive director of MC3, Lynn helped create the applicant portal and put in place systems and processes that govern MC3’s day-to-day operations. He leaves big shoes to fill and a tremendous hole in the hearts of all of us at MC3. We have all benefited from knowing him and will miss him dearly.

Online Memorial

MC3 Remembrances

Jack Goetz, President:

“Lynn was humble beyond belief and an extraordinary person. He cared so much for those in need, and that was part of his impetus to be a mediator. He was exceptionally talented and was a key consultant and contributor for a number of organizations domestically and internationally. And those of you at MC3 know, all too well, what he did for us—we would not be here today without him.”

Henry Alfano, Vice President:

“Lynn’s passing is a terrible loss for MC3, the mediation profession, and for me personally. Lynn was passionate, devoted to MC3’s mission, and cared deeply for those in need of help. He and I would share tech stories while working on MC3 projects. Lynn’s dry sense of humor made conversations fun. My prayers go out to his family. I will miss our Tuesday calls, my friend. Rest in Peace. ”

Jamie Winning, Secretary:

“I was privileged to share a limited time with Lynn on his life’s journey and formed a bond where I was able to call him both colleague and friend.  I know I represent not one, but many who were influenced by Lynn’s kindness and attention to detail.  As a member of the MC3 board, we continue to see his selfless contributions to the organization and how he made our lives easy by structuring processes and procedures, setting a high standard for quality and attention to detail.  I miss him already.  My heart goes out to his family and close friends as they seek to fill a void that cannot be satisfied.  Sleep well my friend.”

Len Gross, Treasurer:

“I am terribly saddened, like everyone who knew and worked with Lynn. We worked together on projects aiding the mediation community, even prior to MC3. Lynn was a person of considerable talent and humanity who will be much missed. Our hearts go out to Lynn’s family at this painful time.”

Mariam Vartkis, Assistant Director:

“My heart is heavy, and I’m deeply saddened with the news of Lynn’s passing. I was honored to have worked closely with Lynn since early 2019 and grateful for the time shared with him, learning from him about life, his passion for mediation work and professionalism. He was a great human being with a big heart, wit, and a sense of humor. His presence will greatly be missed, but his hard work with MC3, efforts for the mediation field and endless support to everyone he worked with, will be carried on.”

Marvin Whistler, Board Member:

Lynn’s passing saddens me. I am happy to have known him.

Chris Welch, Qualifications Committee Chair and Board Member:

“Lynn was a true peacemaker. He was someone who had so much passion for the field that he dug himself deep into the weeds to see how he could help; how could he provide his own expertise to move the industry and the concept of mediation forward: the technology side, the practical side, the theoretical side. Lynn put in the work and pushed many of us in the industry further. He was a volunteer with the Center for Conflict Resolution before his involvement with MC3. As a mediator, Lynn was compassionate, considerate, professional, and effective. He could work with anyone in the community with the utmost respect and grace. As someone who runs a community based organization, I know that he was the perfect ‘community mediator’. This is a loss that will take time for me to personally process. Lynn meant a lot to me. A colleague and friend … May we all understand and recognize those peacemakers in our midst. May he rest in wonderful peace.”

Pam Struss, Board Member:

“Lynn was kind, patient, eager to help, and supportive. May he rest in peace.”

Victoria Gray, former Board Member:

“I met and worked with Lynn in the years when we were building MC3 before the launch and then in the years that followed. I found him to be tender-hearted, knowledgeable, and consistently helpful. He was responsible for the operational end of MC3 where his tech background was so helpful and important for the role he played. He spoke to most of the applicants guiding them individually through the MC3 certification process. We definitely will miss him.”

Adam Ravitch, Board Member:

“Lynn was a hardworking and committed executive director for MC3, but more importantly, he was a kind and caring person. After talking about MC3 business, our conversations would inevitably turn to our personal lives. He loved his family deeply and was committed to serving his community. I hope and pray that his loved ones might feel a measure of peace during this time of mourning by learning of the impact he had on the lives of so many, including me.”

Andy Reimer, Board Member:

“Lynn was a kind, smart, talented, thoughtful and patient man. His gentle nature and soft spoken manner didn’t immediately indicate his keen intelligence. However, Lynn’s wisdom and understanding of often quite complex matters alongside his generous character was evident in every encounter he and I had. His contributions to MC3 were enormous and I both enjoyed and benefitted greatly from the time we spent together. I will think of him often and will miss him greatly.”

MC3 Quality Assurance Video Presentation

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MC3 Quality Assurance Video Presentation

Interview of Andy Shelby, SCMA Board Member and MC3-Certified Mediator

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Andy Shelby, SCMA Board Member and MC3-Certified Mediator

Andy Shelby

MC3: I’m so glad to have this chance to speak with you, Andy. You are an MC3-Certified Mediator and you’ve been a strong advocate for mediator certification. I’m anxious to hear about lots of other things but, to start, I’d be interested in better understanding your thoughts about MC3 and the value of mediator certification.

Andy Shelby: I am absolutely a big supporter of MC3. In fact, I think I was among the earliest group of 10 or so people who became certified. I’d heard about MC3 through my work with SCMA, of course, and when initially asked about going through the application process, I didn’t hesitate and decided to give it a try.

I believe that the vision and strategies of both SCMA and MC3 are very much in sync with one another. Both organizations are committed to the support of practicing and aspiring mediators, helping them to do this work, and to build their practice in the best possible way. At SCMA we work to help mediators enhance their practice in a variety of different ways. We have numerous outlets for education, training, and we provide countless ways for mediators to network with and to learn from one another.

Although MC3 is a separate organization with a different mission than SCMA, the idea of MC3 mediation certification is, I believe, to ensure that mediators possess the education, experience and accountability to be able to do their work at the highest possible level. And I’ve always felt that both organizations were always very naturally aligned with one another.

MC3: Do you have any thoughts about the sorts of things that might further the progress of mediator certification?

Andy Shelby: Well, I think, there’s sort of a chicken and egg thing taking place right now. Mediators need to hear the message about MC3, understand the value of what MC3 is doing, and how being MC3 certified separates you from other mediators. Hopefully, that will grow the ranks of MC3-Certified Mediators. At the same time, the community at large, and specifically I’m speaking of mediators who are hoping to connect with mediation panels that will accept MC3-Ccertified Mediators for their panels, these mediators are looking forward to finding greater opportunities for more work.

Hopefully, progress on one side can encourage progress on the other and continued movement on both sides will allow mediator certification to take a greater hold and truly become a standard for mediation practice in Southern California and elsewhere.

MC3: I couldn’t agree more. If it’s okay with you, and because I’m always interested in the path mediators take that brings them to their ADR practice, I was curious about the work you did that preceded your work as a mediator. Can you talk a bit about that?

Andy Shelby: Sure. I worked in the aerospace industry which has always had a huge presence in Southern California. Although I initially worked for Hughes Electronics, Hughes was eventually bought out by Boeing. I basically stayed with this one company for the entirety of my aerospace career, which lasted for 36 years.

Throughout that time, I worked for different divisions of the company, but my work was always in Human Resources. My first job for Hughes was in Newport Beach where we had about 1,000 people. I had eventually worked my way up to be the HR Manager at this facility and I worked there for approximately 16years. Following that role I transferred to our El Segundo plant, which was eventually purchased by the Boeing Company and worked in a variety of HR management roles there for 17 years. The El Segundo site was enormous and one time we had over 10,000 employees.

MC3: Wow. That’s like a small city!

Andy Shelby: Yeah, that was pretty huge. One year, our 15 person staffing department hired 1,200 people. And the next year, we hired another 1,100.

Moving between Newport Beach and El Segundo was a big change. This new division was obviously much larger than the one I came from but, more important, was my awareness of a different environment at each site – the work they did at the plants were different (seminconductors at Newport, satellites in El Segundo), the people were different, how people interacted with each other was different. Not good or bad, just different. You have to operate differently, even to accomplish similar things you’ve accomplished previously in another workplace. And that was a real challenge for me.

Anyway, after 33 years and two sites I made one last big move within the company. I transferred to the Long Beach site where the company manufactured the C17 jumbo cargo planes.

MC3: The C-17’s. Those are those giant planes that are so big, they look like they’re big enough to swallow another plane. They carry trucks and other vehicles which are driven right up onto the plane, right?

Andy Shelby: Exactly. So, I worked there for the last three years of my aerospace life. And, unfortunately, we actually shut down the plant because the U.S. government made the decision to stop buying C-17’s and there were not enough international sales to sustain us.

MC3: In looking back on it, you spent a good long time in three different facilities. How did they differ? What kinds of things do you think about when you look back on your work at these three separate workplaces.

Andy Shelby: Although I was always working for one company, when I went from one site to another site, it couldn’t have felt more different.

As I moved between plant sites, I had to learn to adapt to each culture. The culture in a work environment can be very strong and being able to understand it and navigate through it is a real key to being successful. The things that I was responsible for – hiring, layoffs, resolving disputes between employees and management, between the union and management – were seemingly the same. However, because of the differences in culture, I was forced to learn, or relearn how to do my job differently, and hopefully better, in order to satisfy the demands of wherever it was that I was working at the time.

Looking back on it, and this is something that I only came to appreciate in retrospect, I think. The skills that I used throughout my HR work life were the same skills that would later come to be used in my life as a mediator.

MC3: What might be a good example of that?

Andy Shelby: Many times, Human Resources departments are often viewed as an extension of management. When dealing with an employee/management issue, the approach that I took was neutral in nature. I would push back against a management position just as hard as I might push back against the employee.

Also, for union negotiations, they can be really complicated. In fact, I came to learn that, with each union negotiation I worked on, there were in fact three separate negotiations taking place. There’s obviously a negotiation between the management side of the company and the labor side of the company. But as the lead negotiator you must also negotiate with your own bargaining team and also negotiate with senior management back at the plant or at Corporate. Everyone usually has their strong opinions on what needs to be accomplished and my role was to understand and prioritize everyone’s proposals and work towards decisions that best accomplished the overall objectives for all parties.

It is a challenging, time consuming and complicated process. My life in Human Resources was full of disputes and dispute resolutions of all kinds. However, there’s probably nothing I’ve done in all my years in the aerospace industry that prepared me for my life as a mediator than did the many union negotiations that I participated in.

MC3: So that’s a good place to make this transition to your mediation life. How were you first exposed to mediation and to ADR?

Andy Shelby: It was gradual. Although it wasn’t so formally named, the nature of the work within an HR department demanded that I develop mediation-like skills. There are disputes within every type of organization. And very often, it falls to HR to help to resolve them.

I was probably developing my mediation skills without knowing that it was taking place. Very early in my career, some colleagues and I were asked to attend a formal training in mediation specifically for the HR staff. It may have been my first formal introduction to the practice and, in fact, the training was taught by Ken Cloke. I can remember listening to what Ken was teaching and thinking, “Wow, this thing really works.” And I always kept it in the back of my mind.

Then sometime around 2010 I was getting a little bored at work, a little antsy maybe. And I was actually sitting with one of my employees, discussing his career development and he mentioned that he might be interested in getting involved in mediation. I told him I’d heard about the program at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Without going into too much detail, it turned out that he never pursued it but I eventually did. Unfortunately, because I was working full time, and work was always very demanding, I was mostly limited to one class per semester. That had me working and taking classes for quite a long time before I received my degree in December of 2015, which was also right around the time that I decided to call it a day and retire from my full-time work at Boeing.

MC3: That was quite a run you had in aerospace.

Andy Shelby: I loved working there. I really like HR. It was a great career, a good company. And, when I left, it was just sorta time.

MC3: So now you’ve just finished school and you’ve retired. Do you recall having an idea of the role you wanted mediation to play in your retirement life?

Andy Shelby: I certainly wanted to get more involved in mediation. My initial goal was to find an internship because I wanted to get some experience. So, I did one internship with the LA County Bar Association, which was mostly doing phone intake. But I wanted more and, in my last class at Dominguez Hills, there was an opportunity for me to begin doing mediation work in the court system.

I started working in small claims court and, later, in civil harassment court. I took small steps at first, like we all do, I think. I decided, however, that the only way you get better at it is through experience. I said, I just got to keep at it, keep at it. And I was pretty committed to it, to doing as many cases in the small claims court as I could and learning how to do the work.

That’s what started me and then I got involved in other things too. Through a class at CSUDH I was able to get connected to the EEOC and handling employment type mediations. I still do this today. And through SCMA I made another connection that got me involved in an organization that handles community mediations. That role just recently ended when the organization closed.

MC3: And, over time, you wound up getting more involved in SCMA, correct?

Andy Shelby: I did. I’d been a member of SCMA for a while at this point and I’d been meeting with other mediators while attending SCMA’s Professional Development Groups (PDG’s). Fortunately, (former SCMA President) Angela Reddock-Wright was starting a PDG in the South Bay which was just what I was looking for. Getting to know Angela better was a great thing and that sort of pulled me further into the SCMA world. And the rest is history (smiles).

MC3: I believe that you followed a path that was similar to Angela’s, at least as it concerned the SCMA. You were the President of SCMA in the year after her Presidential year. I’m curious if you could discuss some of what your biggest challenges were during your time as SCMA President? And what you felt were some of your biggest satisfactions or accomplishments during that time?

Andy Shelby: There were two big challenges I faced. I became President in 2020 and early into that year was when COVID hit. So, the biggest challenge was to figure out how we might change, how we needed to adapt to this new, COVID environment. That was transformative for every organization and company and it was certainly true for SCMA. The other big challenge was to enhance the infrastructure of the organization. SCMA had grown over the years as the mediation profession had matured but the infrastructure needed to also mature to be able to meet the demands of both our customers and the mediation profession.

I like digging in and really understanding how organizations work. I always took that approach in my aerospace life. I felt that I could do a better job for both the employees and the company if I had a deeper understanding of what all of these employees did. At SCMA, it was the same thing (although without the thousands of employees).

I worked hard to figure out what worked well, what worked not-so-well. We revamped our website, went to a new system for handling our back-end operations, and changed our staffing model. It was a lot of work with a lot of support from our SCMA Board and, from an infrastructure standpoint, I think we made some pretty great progress over my time as President.

And from a COVID perspective, SCMA had to adapt, as did pretty much everyone. We were an ‘in-person’ organization in so many ways. We didn’t know a lot about online meetings or Zoom but we learned, we adapted. All of our PDG’s transitioned to online. We had seminars and other professional development activities that went from in person to virtual. We held our signature event, the annual conference in November, let by Mark Lemke and our new administrator (now Director), Bouvier Eulen, as an all virtual event. That was a big deal.

All of that said, and it may be a gradual process, but I’m looking forward to being the ‘in-person’ organization we’ve historically been. I miss seeing and being with people. I think we all do.

MC3: Well, this was great, Andy. Hearing about your work life, it makes perfect sense that you would develop the interest and skills that would lead you to mediation. It was great to talk to you. Thanks for sharing so much.

Andy Shelby: You’re very welcome. It was nice for me too.

Interview of Marvin Whistler, MC3 Board Member

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Marvin Whistler, MC3-Certified Mediator and MC3 Board Member

MC3: As a new MC3 Board Member, are there particular things that drew you to the organization?

MW: As a non-attorney mediator, I’ve always believed in the establishment of standards for professional practice in our field. Attorney mediators are always going to have a prominent place in the work that we do and I believe that the majority of MC3-Certified Mediators are attorneys or have attended graduate level dispute resolution programs. That said. I believe our field is full of talented, experienced mediators who are not necessarily attorneys and I support MC3’s effort at recognizing the overall background, qualifications, and experience of all mediators, not only those who attended law school.

MC3: Marvin, you’ve been mediating for some time. How did you begin?

MW: I started mediating approximately 30 years ago, in 1991. I was working in real estate, and the man I was working for, who later became my partner, was a longtime mediator and arbitrator for real estate issues. He thought I might be good at it and encouraged me to try it. I remember not long after that, seeing an ad on TV, on public television, for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s dispute resolution program. They had a training which I took and, afterwards they asked us to sign up and continue working for the program for a year. From the very beginning, I just liked doing it and I just dove right into it, helping people with all kinds of issues.

My partner and I talked about opening a business mediation and arbitration business but, before it got off the ground, he became ill and I wasn’t capable of pursing it on my own at the time. I stayed in real estate for a while and eventually moved into investment counseling, something I did for 16 years, but I was always mediating on the side for the City Attorney.

MC3: And over time, if I’m correct, your mediation practice became primarily focused on family issues.

MW: That happened a little later. I went back to school to earn a master’s degree in negotiation and conflict management at Cal State Dominguez Hills. While I was there, I took time to specifically study and learn about divorce mediation. I had recently been divorced myself and it piqued my interest, and I began to give serious thought to focusing a mediation practice on helping divorcing parties navigate this difficult time in their lives.

There were other steps along the way – and I continue to mediate in other venues, particularly the Dependency Court within the LA Superior Court System – but that’s pretty much been my area of practice ever since.

MC3: Marvin, you have a large community of colleagues and friends that you’ve left in order to make a big move from Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio. What prompted this big change in your life?

MW: Well, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years. In fact, early in my marriage my wife and I were actually planning to move to New England. And then life comes along. We had a child and it was difficult to leave the support system we had in Los Angeles. So we stayed. And basically, I built my life in Southern California, at least for as long as my daughter was there. And last year, when my now-adult daughter decided to move away, I said, “Well, why not? Or, if not now, when?” And, as for Ohio, I grew up not far from where I am so there’s some familiarity to my new surroundings.

MC3: And I presume you’re expecting to continue your work as a mediator in Columbus?

MW: Yes, I am. So far, I’ve been continuing to work in Los Angeles. With the advent of everyone being accepting of and comfortable with Zoom and other forms of virtual communication, it’s been a rather easy transition; One that I was actually making already. Even before COVID shut things down, I had decided that I was going to work virtually. I had closed my office and was well on my way to making this transition.

MC3: Have you had an opportunity to explore and better understand the mediation community in in Columbus?

MW: Actually, not much. I’ve done a little searching online and found a couple of organizations that I will eventually reach out to. But COVID has slowed that process. And, if the pandemic were not enough, I recently had knee replacement surgery. The surgery went well but it has unavoidably slowed my timeline somewhat.

I look forward to exploring this world but there’s not immediate pressure to do so. The establishment of my online practice will hopefully allow me to continue to mediate cases that are based in California, in Ohio and elsewhere,

MC3: Thank you Marvin. Good luck on your relocation. Know that you are missed by many in Southern California.

MW: I miss many people as well. Happily, I’m only a Zoom call away.

Interview of Jim Sullivan, MC3 Board Member

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Jim Sullivan, MC3-Certified Mediator and MC3 Board Member

MC3: Jim, as you’re now joining the MC3 Board, do you have any thoughts about the organization and about mediator certification in general?

Jim Sullivan

JS: First of all, I’ve been supportive of MC3 from the time I first became aware of it.  Early on when I was in school at USC, Jack Goetz (MC3 President) made a presentation that made a lasting impression on me.  He talked about how so many professions require licensing or certification and that we all expect this and simply take for granted.  I remember Jack talking about how you’re not allowed to cut someone’s hair without a state license.  And, for mediators, he said “Look, if the mediation world doesn’t find a way to certify itself, somebody in Sacramento or some other state legislature is going to get on this, and then it’ll be out of our control.”

I believe that and I also believe that the lack of certification of standards has led to a tendency to undervalue, and under compensate, the work of mediators.  I’m very excited to join the MC3 Board and, hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute to the efforts of the other Board members and continue to establish MC3 as an industry standard for good mediation practice.

MC3:  Please tell us a little bit about your mediation practice.  I know you’ve had a long career in commercial real estate.  How have you been able to transition to ADR work?

JS: I’ve been a member of the commercial real estate trade association, known as AIR CRE for 30 years and, for about the last 15 years, I’ve participated on the association’s Dispute Resolution committee. It’s a service provided to our members to help brokers resolve disputes associated with transactions they’ve been involved with.  I just enjoyed this aspect of my work without really knowing anything about ADR. However, as I did it more, got better at resolving disputes and enjoyed it more, I subsequently looked into ADR programs in Southern California.  I wound up being a part of the inaugural class for the Master’s Program in Dispute Resolution at the USC Gould School of Law.

MC3: So, within AIR CRE, disputants bring their claims to your panel to hopefully find resolution.

JS: It’s a member benefit. There is a filing fee but it is considerably cheaper than hiring a lawyer. And, if we’re not able to resolve things through mediation, the parties can then have their dispute heard by an arbitration panel.

MC3: And do you sometimes serve as an arbitrator, as well?

JS: I haven’t yet but I would love to. However, since I’m almost always the first point of contact, working with parties in a mediation setting, that automatically disqualifies me from later serving as an arbitrator.

MC3: Do you have opportunities to mediate outside of your organization?

JS: I have, on occasion, been mediating in federal court, on ADA (Americans with Disability Act) cases. I also do a fair amount of expert witness testimony, typically in the commercial real estate arena where I have my expertise.  Although expert witness work requires that I often cannot remain neutral, it utilizes many of the same skills that I would use in a mediated setting, specifically careful listening as well as being able to advocate a point of view or an informed perspective without having direct skin in the game.  But the effort to be doing more paid mediation work is something I’m always working on.

MC3: Has COVID impacted your mediation practice in any meaningful ways?

JS: Before I knew what Zoom was, I really resisted the need to mediate virtually online. I kind of liked getting dressed up in my suit and driving to the First Street federal courthouse in downtown L.A.  I still miss that.  But once I got used to doing it on Zoom, I got very comfortable and I think I’ve adapted pretty well.  That said, because we are humans and direct personal interaction is still really important, I will look forward to a mediation practice that, at least in part, embraces live and in person interaction.

MC3: Congratulations on your Board appointment, Jim.  Thanks for taking a few minutes to share some thoughts with us.

Interview of Pam Struss, PhD, President VMN and MC3 Board Member

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Pam Struss, PhD, President of Virginia Mediation Network, MC3-Certified Mediator and MC3 Board Member

MC3: So happy to speak with you Pam. Maybe a good place to start would be for you to share a bit about your professional background, some of the work you’ve done over your career and how you came to a professional focus on ADR,
Pam Struss, PhD
Pam Struss: Well, my present work is basically divided between my work as an academic – I’m on the faculty at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia – and my work as a mediator.  However, the path I took to get here is a bit circuitous.

In the 1980’s, I was living in Dallas, Texas. I was a young mom, going to college, raising my children and, because of where I lived and what was happening in my community found myself engaging with some community issues.

Dallas was growing and it turned out that a road in front of my house had traffic congestion that was untenable.  I became involved in this issue and, without going into detail, I managed to help widen the road and resolve the issue.

Solving that problem led me to additional community involvement.  I started to serve on various local boards and commissions.  I engaged local, neighboring municipalities, encouraging them to work together on various projects – an animal control facility, a fire training center, a local water tower.  I got involved.

When I graduated college, I briefly worked for my local member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  I later worked with our local probation department which was experience where I worked with people who were in high conflict situations, and I would try to help them remove some of the conflict from their lives.  That work taught be a whole lot about how I might help all sorts of people from differing backgrounds and circumstances.

MC3: Interesting.  And where did you go from there?

Pam Struss: I worked briefly with American Airlines but, before too long, my husband found out that his job was going to take us to the DC area where I began selling real estate in Northern Virginia, which was something I did for about 16 years.  However, throughout all of that time, the idea of being involved with local government was always kind of tugging at me.  So, I wound up developing a program to help teachers, nurses, firefighters and law enforcement officers buy their first home.  And that was pretty successful, and it led me to taking my next step which was to return to school.

I received a Master’s Degree from George Mason University and received my PhD from Nova Southeastern University, both with a focus on Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  And, once I was finished, that led to one of my professors at George Mason asking me to teach a class which I did without any certainty that I could do it or do it well.  Happily, once I took this step, I found that I absolutely loved it.

MC3: I’m wondering if the various things you’d been working at for the prior 20 years – the community work, your work with the Department of Probation, even the real estate sales – were all, in some way, encouraging people to compromise, to change their behavior, to be brought, in some sense, closer to an agreement; That there had been a through-line in your professional past that found its home in the world of Conflict Resolution.

Pam Struss: It’s really kind of bizarre. I was encouraged to take a single class in Conflict Resolution, and I almost immediately realized that this brings all the areas of work I’ve done together in one place.  I realized that the skills that are used in ADR are skills I’ve used for a very, very long time and it felt very natural, and very appropriate to me.

I had some extraordinary experiences as a graduate student.  The most memorable took place when I was interning for the World Religion Center.  The Rabbi who was the Chair of the Center was approached by King Abdullah of Jordan who wanted to meet and speak with some of the more influential Rabbis on the east coast.  The King, who is brilliant man with a big heart would speak of the Rabbis as ‘cousins’.  He would say, “We’re from the same tribe.  We have a lot of the same culinary concerns, and we are more alike than we are different”.  So, I helped organize this meeting which was absolutely amazing.

This initial meeting led to a trip to Israel where we met and worked with the Israeli leadership, the Palestinian leadership, the US State Department Consulate and other stakeholders in this conflict-laden part of the world.

I was the first student who was allowed to participate on this type of trip. It was an extraordinary opportunity for me to experience conflict resolution on an international stage, in a foreign setting and, without question, on a higher level than I had ever experienced it before.

MC3: Let’s switch to the present.  It seems to me that you wear a bunch of different hats.  You are an academic, you are the current President of the Virginia Mediation Network where you act as a policymaker/advocate for the mediation field and you’re a practicing mediator yourself.  How do you describe yourself professionally?

Pam Struss:  I’d say it’s probably about 50/50 academic, and then also practitioner.  And there’s more to my practice than strict mediation; Analysis of specific conflicts in terms of what’s going on, helping to identify the underlying causes of particular disputes.

MC3: This additional work is being done on behalf of whom?

Pam Struss: Several different people.  I guess the latest one that comes to mind is the Board of Supervisors for Fairfax County, Virginia called me to discuss a nonprofit that was gifted some land, acreage that had national historic significance.  And some of the board members of the nonprofit began to see dollar signs. Some wanted to tear down some of the historic buildings, let a developer come in a build big home sites and sell them off.

I was called and asked to see if I could help.  I talked to a few of the Board members, I did some research and, pretty quickly, I was able to see that some of the parties had significant conflicts of interest and might have something personally to gain in the development and sale of this land.

Right now, there are parties in Washington DC, Fairfax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia who are all stepping in, so it is probably beyond my ability to do anything at present, but I was going to try.  They may pull me back in afterwards once it all explodes.

MC3: And, in your current division of labor, are you satisfied with the way things are?  If you could change the mix, do more of one thing, less of another, are there changes you’d like to make?

Pam Struss: Probably not, although I might like to teach another class or two each semester because I really enjoy that.

And I can do that along with practicing. You know, right now I’m the president of the statewide professional organization, the Virginia Mediation Network (VMN), which has been interesting and rewarding.  Because I am president, I think that may be why the guy from the Fairfax Board of Supervisors came to me. So, VMN has opened some doors and some possibilities that I didn’t know were there.  And it’s helped develop my reputation which has been nice.

MC3: Could you speak about your role as an educator?  What classes do you typically teach?

Pam Struss: Well, at George Mason, I’m on the faculty of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.  Right now, I teach the Mediation Theory and Practice course to undergrads. I’m interested in teaching a class in non-violent communication and I’d also be interested in developing a lab on the campus, something along the lines of a mediation lab or conflict resolution lab, so the students would have an opportunity to practice.

MC3: Please tell me a little bit more about VMN. Tell me about the organization, how long it’s been around and the role your organization plays in the Virginia mediation landscape.

Pam Struss: The Virginia Mediation Network has existed for 32 years.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, there began to be a real push in the court system for an alternative to litigation, something that could occur in a venue other than the typical trial.

So, Virginia was one of the leaders in this effort and, after two or three years of study, they decided to set up a more formalized mediation program in the court system. Our membership has gone up and down over the years.  We currently have approximately 150 members.  We have an annual conference; we do webinars and advocate on behalf of the mediators with the legislative bodies and that kind of thing.

MC3: Are there any particular accomplishments of VMN that have best defined the organization?

Pam Struss: Well, prior to my time on the Board of VMN, I do not believe that the compensation that the courts were paying mediators had changed in something like the past 20 years.  We have managed to get a raise for mediator compensation for cases associated with domestic juvenile custody visitation.

Several years ago, the Chief Justice of the State Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia got a little bit fed up because he was hearing from too many different entities regarding mediation.  He was hearing from community mediation centers, he was hearing from us, from VMN, and we represent the actual practitioners. He was hearing from attorneys, and he finally said this is too confusing, you need to speak with one voice.

So, as a result, a month ago, I and one other gal, we formed a working group and had gotten other people involved in that.  We had a goal of speaking with one voice when we’re dealing with the legislature, the court system and, specifically, with the Chief Justice, because he told us that’s what he wanted us to do.

MC3: And you hope that VMN will be that primary voice?

Pam Struss: Yes.

MC3:  That’s seems like a fairly big accomplishment.

Pam Struss: Yes.

MC3:  Am I correct in saying that you are not an attorney?

Pam Struss: I am not.

MC3:  And, with regard to VMN, I presume that your membership includes both attorney and non-attorney mediators?

Pam Struss: Yes, it does. And we have terrific attorney mediators in our membership.  However, in general, one thing I’ve noticed as a difference between the two camps is the way that each type of mediator is trained to listen.

Attorneys are trained very differently.  They’re taught how to efficiently assemble information.  I often think that they just want to get to the punchline, they’re anxious to learn just enough about a dispute to identify the determinative case law that will be applicable and aren’t as interested in the bigger story.

It is drilled into non-attorney mediators that the most important thing they can do is to listen. We try to train the attorneys like this too, but it doesn’t work too well. Attorneys have a long history of being capable and efficient in their abilities to assemble relevant information.

And I believe that it’s incumbent upon the mediator to listen to the whole story and figure out patterns, where they exist.  So frequently, mediations turn and find themselves resolvable by a mediator successfully listening to those stories.

MC3: My understanding is that, at some point and as a part of your role at VMN, you were looking for some sort of certification program and in your search of seeing what that might be, you became aware of MC3.

Pam Struss: Exactly. I was the president-elect at VMN, and I was charged with figuring out how to make our membership stand out above other mediators in Virginia where, like most places, you can just simply raise your hand and say, “I’m a mediator.” You don’t have to have any training, any background, any anything.  And the average person does not understand it. And so, I was charged with seeing if maybe we could come up with some kind of designation and make our mediators, our VMN members, stand out from, and above, others.

And I came up with a program. And it was summarily shot down.

So, I just kept looking and I came across MC3, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is it exactly.” So, I contacted and had a long conversation with Jack (Goetz, MC3 President). And the more we spoke, the more I felt that this is exactly what we were talking about and looking for. After lots of internal discussion, I was able to sell our Board that this is what we needed.

We’ve had a few of our members apply and receive their MC3 Certification but we’re going to have another presentation at our annual conference this year that will hopefully encourage some more applicants. It’s just taken us a while to get people to understand, but I am absolutely a firm believer that MC3 will be huge and that it’s very needed for our field. There needs to be a standard that is set for the industry.

The certification that MC3 represents is definitely needed. I think at some point we need to get in front of the state bar associations. I feel strongly about that. We need to collectively try to get all the different mediation entities, state entities and we need to encourage them to look at our standards and say this is what needs to happen.

MC3:  Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that is a significant part of your life and work that you’d like to share?

Pam Struss: Actually, there is.  It is a concept that I began developing several years ago called the Life Lens.

The idea behind it is that our Life Lens is made up of our genetics, our personality, our experience and our value systems. Each one of us possesses our own Life Lens and we both speak and listen through our individual Life Lens. There is so much miscommunication that takes place because we assume that people understand how we’re interpreting our world, how we’re saying things, how we’re hearing things.

Unfortunately, that is just not the case and I think it’s important that we encourage people to stop and do a little bit of self-evaluation, to not be so quick to take offense and to realize that the way that I might be able to hear, understand, process is a result of my Lens.  And it’s important for us all to appreciate that the Life Lens through which others see things might be a little different or, perhaps, vastly different from our own and that we are all better off with this awareness.  We are all benefitted by slowing down, asking more questions and doing our best to try and see a world through the eyes of others.

MC3:  I think that’s a great place to end, Pam.  It was great talking with you.  Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts today.

**This interview was edited for length and clarity.**

Interview of Mark Lemke, SCMA President and MC3-Certified Mediator

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Mark Lemke, President of Southern California Mediation Association and MC3-Certified Mediator

Mark Lemke, President of Southern California Mediation Association

How do you think the MC3 mediator certification initiative aligns with the goals of the Southern California Mediation Association?

SCMA’s mission is to nurture, expand and develop the practice, profession and community of mediation. MC3’s goal of professionalizing mediation aligns perfectly with our mission at SCMA.  Additionally, while many of our members are attorneys, about half our members are professionals with experience in a variety of other fields. Mediation certification recognizes that the true test of a mediator isn’t any particular degree, but rather a combination of the highest levels of training, standards, and experience. Certification gives all mediators instant credibility, instant authority, and helps level the playing field.  And that’s where I think that our partnership really is a win-win for both organizations.

MC3 has a goal of professionalizing the field and establishing a standard of best practices for mediators.  I’m interested as to whether you have any thoughts about what might enable MC3 to continue to grow its membership and establish this standard throughout the mediation community.

As more mediators realize the tremendous value of certification, more will seek it out, and more will understand that MC3 offers the gold standard in mediator certification.

I’ve been surprised to see how many organizations, how many websites, how many educational institutions issue either certificates or have certificate programs.  So many of them simply take the word (and the financial contributions) of their applicants and do very little, if any, investigation into the qualifications and abilities of the mediator.

What MC3 offers is substantively and qualitatively very different than what those other organizations do.  It is, without question, a higher standard.  MC3’s rigorous investigation into the training, education, and experience of applicants is what ensures the authority of MC3 certification. After having reviewed the backgrounds of applicants, those who qualify as Certified Mediators can be legitimately entrusted with the MC3 certification brand.

There are two additional things that MC3 is doing that will further increase demand for certification. The first is seeking partnerships with select panels. Panels that recognize, prefer, and publicize MC3-certification will build awareness of MC3 certification and will encourage greater demand for MC3-certified mediators among the public, and other panels.  Second, MC3 is doing a fantastic job of establishing and educating the public directly about the value of certification.

On its website, MC3, has a directory of all of the MC3-Certified Mediators and I am proud to be listed among them.  The directory allows attorneys or disputants to search for a Certified Mediator by geographic areas or mediator’s field of expertise.

My expectation is that, as more people in our community – mediators, disputants, attorneys, panels – begin to understand the value of certification and the gold standard that MC3 offers, more and more mediators will seek out MC3 certification. 

Some SCMA members may not be aware of the degree to which the SCMA has, over the past several years, provided continuous, and very generous, financial support to MC3. Are there other benefits of certification to be realized by SCMA members that you haven’t already addressed?

SCMA remains a steadfast supporter of MC3. I am also proud to be a personal financial supporter of MC3 at the Founder Level.  I strongly believe in the goals of MC3.  And, in addition to securing my MC3 Certification, I’m also putting my money where my mouth is, and I’m very glad to do so.

SCMA’s MC3 members, of course, receive innate rewards that come from certification, including the recognition and the esteem that is conferred upon meeting this Gold Standard.  I also believe that SCMA members benefit by the tremendous educational mission that MC3 has taken on in informing the public about our profession, and helping to further establish the value of the work we do, as skilled professionals, in the eyes of the general public.

Several years ago, I remember you and I having a conversation about MC3 where you expressed uncertainty and, perhaps, a bit of skepticism about the role that mediator certification might play within the broader landscape of the mediation community.  You have come to be a strong supporter of MC3.   Could you discuss how your perspective has changed?

It’s a great question and one that many people may be asking themselves in deciding whether to seek their MC3 certification.  For me, I listened to and considered the thoughts of a lot of leaders and titans within our mediation community. What I heard, almost universally, was that MC3 has an important mission. And that MC3 is looking to accomplish something unprecedented in establishing mediation as a recognized profession.

The more that I thought about it, it became something that I wanted to be a part of, and wanted to associate myself with.  I wanted to have my name included in the MC3 Directory of Certified Mediators. And I now view my Certification as a point of pride.  I’m very proud to be a part of this select group of people who have been recognized by MC3 as practicing this work at the highest levels of our profession and having the highest standards of education and integrity. I was pleased to be able to recently renew my status as an MC3-Certified Mediator and I look forward to many such renewals in the future.

Lastly, please share some thoughts about the SCMA initiatives/ accomplishments from your tenure as president, and during this past very challenging pandemic year, that you are most proud of.

You’re right in that this has been a challenging year for SCMA, yet it’s also been a year that’s been filled with opportunity.  When we find ourselves looking back at this year, I hope that we’ll be able to say that we have not only maintained but grown our membership, by constantly bringing new mediators to the profession and to our organization.

We have expanded our events.  We offered our first online Annual Conference.  We put on a very successful Family Mediation Institute.  We are in the process of planning a revived Employment Mediation Institute.  And we’ve already begun planning for this year’s Annual Conference on November 13.  This year we expect to offer at least four events spotlighting MC3 and its leadership.

One of the several things that I wanted to happen during my tenure as President is that I’ve been committed to SCMA offering at least one, if not two and sometimes more, events each and every month. We are also offering what I believe is the greatest number of professional development groups (PDG’s) we’ve ever offered in our history.  We now have a total of seven and we have expanded ourselves from our tradition of geographically-based PDG’s to now having field-specific PDG’s such as our Family Law Study Group and Making Money as a Mediator.

To the extent that we have moved online, it has made it a little easier for us to offer this greater number of events. But I want to make sure that our members really feel engaged, that our members have as many opportunities to see the value of their SCMA membership in the online era.   And newer members should stay tuned for information on the re-launching of our Mentorship Program.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I work with a phenomenal team in Director Bouvier Eulen and our Events co-chairs Jennifer Johnston Terando and Incoming President Richard Erhard.  We have an active, committed Board of Directors and I often feel very humbled by the fantastic people that I’ve been able to work with this past year, including many people who are MC3 Certified.

Finally, when I take a moment to consider my tenure as the President of SCMA, I’m particularly proud to be the first openly LGBTQ+ President of this organization and, to my knowledge, the first Hispanic President of SCMA.  It’s a historic year for our organization, a year of continuing progress and accomplishment, and I’m very proud to be a part of that history.

Thank you, Mark.  We appreciate the thoughts you shared with us today and, of course, greatly appreciate SCMA’s, and your personal, support for MC3.