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Mediation Center of Los Angeles Program Background

MCLA Program Background

Mediation Center of Los Angeles Program Background

The State of California has the largest court system in the world and the County of Los Angeles maintains the largest unified trial court system in the United States. Los Angeles Superior court (LASC) serves nearly 10 million residents of the county through nearly 600 courtrooms presided over by 550 bench officers. It handles unlimited civil matters in 70 courtrooms in 12 locations and files approximately 70,000 unlimited civil cases annually.

Several years ago, this court system was abruptly forced close a number of its programs due to budgetary cuts. Entire district courts were shut down, large caseloads were consolidated among judicial officers, staffing was reduced, and over time legal fees increased, clients are now required to travel longer distances to a courthouse, and there are longer wait times for courtrooms. The frustration for the entire community continues to build as access to justice for hundreds of thousands of citizens residing in the county has been reduced.

Among the most important and beneficial programs operated by LASC that was closed was its Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program. This program allowed litigants to avoid the expense and time of pursuing a case through the standard court litigation process instead offering settlement opportunities for parties in conflict that were faster and cheaper. More than 10,000 cases were administrated through the ADR program by mediators.

The judges and their staff have been feeling the pinch as the inability to resolve the disputes through mediation is burdensome and often financially devastating — primarily those in underserved communities — who need an immediate resolution of cases. To address these needs, the Court created and outsourced the Resource List of Approved Vendors who can fill the gap. In April 2018, the Mediation Center of Los Angeles (“MCLA”) was selected as one of only two organizations in the county to be included on the LASC’s new Civil Mediation Resource List. The Resource List identifies affordable mediation services with highly-qualified independent attorney-mediators in the Los Angeles community.   Visit http://www.lacourt.org/division/civil/ci0109.aspx

On October 2, 2018, the Court also opened a new program to offer Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) services to all civil litigants to substantially further reduce costs to litigants. The Court has selected MCLA as one of the organizations to provide Online Dispute Resolution service which has the potential to transform the way mediations are conducted.  Independent mediators will be trained to use the latest technology to provide online mediations.

MCLA (a project of the Valley Bar Mediation Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization) is dedicated to community service (a) by educating the public about the benefits of mediation, (b) by providing access to justice for all litigants by offering  high quality affordable mediations by a panel of independent lawyer-mediators who have dedicated their valuable time and skills to help resolve disputes and (c) by reducing the burden on the Courts and taxpayers by avoiding costly litigation and trials.

MCLA was formed under the auspices of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association in response to the termination of the LASC ADR program. During the past decades, the San Fernando Valley Bar Association has coordinated the Family Law Mediation Program for the Northwest, North Valley, and North Central Districts; the Probate Settlement Program for the Northwest District and now the Central District; and the award-winning Valley Associated Settlement Team (VAST) Program for the Northwest and North Valley Districts. The SFVBA also administers a State Bar certified Attorney Referral Service and Mandatory Fee Arbitration Programs to serve the public.

MCLA serves the greater Los Angeles area. We work to increase access to justice by offering a panel of independent professional, experienced mediators to help individuals, businesses and organizations resolve disputes without having to engage in costly litigation. MCLA programs reach out to different cultures, ethnic, religious, economic groups as well as different lifestyles and gender identities; emphasis is placed on the underserved, underprivileged, lower income populations.

As an approved vendor for the Court’s Civil Mediation Resource List, MCLA offers a panel of highly independent qualified lawyer-mediators who meet or exceed the minimum qualifications of California Rules of Court, Rule 10.781a. MCLA will also be providing Online Dispute Resolution to all civil litigants as an option to further reduce litigation costs.

All independent mediators have agreed to accept cases from litigants on a reduced fee basis or in cases where a litigant is determined by the court unable to pay the filing fee, on a pro bono basis. Each of the mediators has met the rigorous standards for qualifications in accordance with the court’s recommendations including appropriate licenses, State of California Bar members, appropriate training, extensive experience, references from clients and have met the highest ethical standards of conduct.

MCLA offers the lowest fees by any qualified organization selected by the Court and is affordable for all litigants.

Mediators will provide the first 3 hours of service at a reduced rate of $150 for each hour or a total of $450 to be divided by and among the parties. After the first 3 hours, if the parties wish to continue the mediation, the mediator will be paid a fee at the mediator’s standard rate not to exceed $390 per hour. This rate is substantially lower than fees charged by most other qualified lawyer-mediators.

The impact will be great. Each mediator can mediate approximately 10 court-referred cases or more per month which would serve 150 cases per month or 1800 cases per year. With a panel built to 100 mediators, Mediation Center of Los Angeles has the potential to mediate 18,000 cases annually. Since the closing of the court’s initial ADR program, the professionals in the mediation field have been greatly impacted by the reduced workload. Today, there are hundreds of mediators and students of dispute resolution eager to can experience from some of the top law schools in the country who are eager to join MCLA’s panel of court-eligible mediators.

The administrators are highly qualified. The program will be administered by Myer Sankary and Deanna Armbruster. Mr. Sankary, a Harvard Law School graduate. 1965, is a prominent lawyer and mediator whose credentials include over 50 years practicing law in Los Angeles in a variety of areas of law including civil litigation, probate, court-appointed conservator and trustee, corporate and business law, and estate planning and trust administration. Mr. Sankary has mediated hundreds of litigated cases over the past twenty years, many of which he provided pro bona for the court’s ADR program. For 8 years he served on the panel of ADR Services, Inc. before he chose to become independent, so he is able to devote his efforts to administer the MCLA program.

He also mediates community disputes such as charter schools, teacher associations, and sports organizations affecting thousands of players, coaches, and referees. He served on the Los Angeles Superior Court’s ADR executive committee for over 10 years and was assigned to review and evaluate training programs to determine which programs met all of the requirements established by the LASC ADR committee. Mr. Sankary has had extensive training at Pepperdine Straus Institute in Mediation the Litigated Case (since 1996) and has presented numerous training programs in mediation at the State Bar Annual Meeting, SCMA conferences and local bar associations. He is past president of the Southern California Mediation Association and has presented numerous programs for that organization as well. Mr. Sankary is also a regular lecturer since 2004 at the USC Marshall School of Business providing lectures and workshop training for MBA students as well as business executives in mediating and negotiating litigated disputes. He has written numerous articles on mediation published in various local, state and international publications.

Deanna Armbruster is the Executive Director of Mediation Center of Los Angeles. Ms. Armbruster is responsible for oversight and supervision of required staff. Deanna Armbruster has served on the working team developing Mediation Center of Los Angeles since its inception. Prior to joining PROPOSER as its founding Executive Director, Ms. Armbruster was the Executive Director of the American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, and the U.S. Director of the Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam World Peace College supporting the work of the “Oasis of Peace” community in Israel. Ms. Armbruster has extensive experience in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating numerous multi-year, multi-million-dollar U.S. government-funded grant contracts.

Other representatives include: William Molfetta was managing counsel for 26 years of the in-house law firm for the Aetna Casualty & Surety and Travelers Insurance Companies. He has been a full-time mediator since 2012. The Board of MCLA includes two past presidents of the SFVBA, David Gurnick who is a senior partner at Lewitt Hackman and Adam Grant who is a senior partner at Albert Barr and Grant. Yi Sun Kim is the current president of the SFBA and is a partner at Greenberg and Bass. Mr. Molfetta, Mr. Gurnick, Mr. Grant and Ms. Kim are also serving on the Quality Control Committee for oversight management to the program.

The program requires funding. When the LA Superior Court operated the ADR program, it cost almost $2 million a year. By contrast, the current projected initial annual budget for operating the MCLA program is about $150,000. Funding is needed to cover insurance costs, website operations, telephone, and other administrative functions, and salaries for staff to operate the program. Panelists will be asked to donate a nominal amount to join, and litigants will also be charged a low administrative fee of $50 per party to participate in the program which will help offset expenses.  The balance of the funding must come from individual tax-deductible donations, organizational and foundation grants, and corporate sponsorships.

For further information, please contact Myer Sankary by phone at 833-476-9145 or email at info@mediationla.org