The following dispute could happen anywhere, as it deals with raw emotions, a long term friendship that went sour, and the mediation process.

The plaintiff and defendant were long term friends, they shared in common, guns, ammo, and mining. The sixty year friendship also included visits to the defendant’s 100 acre ranch that was off the grid.

No power, no water, no electricity, no septic. Housing consisted of crude cabins and hidden ammo and guns.

As time passed, construction equipment was brought in and abandoned with decades of exposure to four seasons. The equipment broke down and rusted out bodies of abandoned vehicles which became the landscape. Decades passed and the decision was made to market and sell the ranch.

A rural broker suggested a general cleanup that would make the land more appealing to a potential buyer. The defendant and family members asked the plaintiff to take some action by removing broken down and abandoned equipment brought in by the plaintiff.

Years passed pleas were ignored. One of the items was a construction road grader with motors that had not worked for years.

The past friendship became strained and the request for removal was ignored.

A decision was made by the defendant and his son and they cut the road grader into seven individual pieces including a cutting torch.

Upon discovery of these actions, the plaintiff sought relief and charged his friend with a felony and a cease-and-desist for remaining items that were left on the ranch.

Lawyers were called.

A suit was filed and a counter suit was made. The plaintiff was on a mission and insisted that the court would support his position. The court made the decision to send these two long term friends to voluntary mediation.

They did not care about preserving a long term relationship. Two different mediators spent five hours in mediation. The first mediator was a woman who has excellent mediation skills albeit skills in a city environment. The second mediation occurred after the court suggested a male mediator who may bridge the gap and who also lived in a rural county for 40 years.

Both mediation’s brought about discussions of compromise and understanding of one another’s positions. The realty is both sides were deeply entrenched and locked into anger, resentment and the old friends made the decision to let the “Judge” make the decision—both believing they would be proven right.

The friends entered the courtroom and each sat on different sides of the court room and stared at the clerk and bailiff. The second mediator took a risk and approached the plaintiff and planted a seed. The suggestion made by the mediator spoke to each of their logic and the mediator turned to the clerk and suggested a quick time delay prior to the judge’s entry.

The mediator asked both to step into the hallway and like a layer of onions, a solution was created and both began to work on compromise and a solution that included cash and return of personal property. Within 30 minutes, the court accepted a settlement and both friends left the court room not as long term friends but with knowledge that this long term dispute reflected new beginnings and a chapter in their lives involving a solution to their individual decade-plus-long conflict.

The court was wise in offering mediation as an alternative to litigation. The mediator’s used their mediation skills allowing both parties to craft a settlement. Persistence with kindness, honesty to each party, active listening skills and “neutrality,” and open communication played a role by the mediators. Timing and the wiliness to take risks was important as well as the determination by both the court and the mediation team.

by Jim Hildreth

Jim W Hildreth is a California mediator who mediates in the courts and in the private sector. He is based in Oakland & Sonora, CA.