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Ethics rules for mediators retooled, comment sought

Deadline has been extended until Oct. 30

Regulations that govern certified mediators in Virginia would have more teeth under changes now under consideration.

Among the changes is a provision that would allow the Supreme Court’s Division of Dispute Resolution Services to immediately suspend mediator certification if a mediator refused to respond to concerns based on a complaint about improper behavior.

The DRS has extended the deadline for comments to the proposed rule changes to Oct. 30.

Documents marked with the proposed changes are available on the Web site for Virginia’s Judicial System.

A member of the ethics committee convened to recommend changes said the changes will allow the DRS to have a more immediate response when there are credible allegations of ethics concerns about a mediator. Lawrie Parker, director of the Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center in Warrenton, said the proposed standards would allow action by DRS in certain cases without having to convene the complaint review committee for guidance.

“I think this will allow the Supreme Court of Virginia to be more efficient in their response,” Parker said. “I think the changes will strengthen professionalism in mediation.”

DRS services manager Sally P. Campbell said the panel working on the change had hoped to present the recommendations to the Judicial Council at its October meeting. That timetable left only three weeks for comments, however, and mediators asked for more time to consider the suggested changes. The schedule now aims for consideration by the Judicial Council next year.

The revisions under discussion are extensive and involve five separate documents. The review process began two years ago, at first directed just to training and ethics issues. The ethics committee working on the changes then turned its attention to other documents governing mediation in Virginia, including the complaint procedures.

The panel finished its red-pencil work in 2008. DRS, a division of the Supreme Court’s Office of the Executive Secretary, then added its own suggested changes before posting the documents for comment.

Under proposed changes to the complaint procedures, DRS first reviews a complaint to determine if it falls within the DRS’ jurisdiction. If so, an intake attorney checks to see if the complaint is facially sufficient – that is, whether the allegations, if true, show a violation of mediation standards and guidelines.

A complaint that passes the “facially sufficient” test results in a letter to the mediator outlining the concerns. The mediator has 20 calendar days to respond to DRS, with a copy to the complainant.

If the mediator fails to respond in 20 days, DRS may investigate the complaint and, in its discretion, may “immediately suspend” the mediator’s certification pending resolution of the complaint.

Comments should be directed by e-mail to DRS ADR programs coordinator Melanie Rinehults at [email protected]

The comments will be considered by the ethics committee. After the committee’s final versions are reviewed by the OES, DRS anticipates presenting the proposed revisions to the Judicial Council of Virginia for its first meeting in 2010.

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