2011 Hawaii Access to Justice Write-Up

*The Social Media and the Law Post for today will come out tomorrow.  Instead, enjoy a special post about Hawaii Access to Justice.

** 6/28/11 – CORRECTION – When I first made this post, I mistakenly made it seem that it was the Mediation Center of the Pacific (located on Oahu) handled all cases in the statistics section.  This is NOT the case.  In actuality it was the Mediation Centers of Hawaii (MCH), which includes all community mediation centers across the State, not just the Mediation Center of the Pacific.  The text has been edited to show this change.  – RKH

Access to justice does not mean just getting to go to court.

I was fortunate this past Friday (6/24/11) afternoon to have time to attend the 2011 Hawaii Access to Justice Conference, hosted at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law.  It was a very interesting and informative Conference filled with a lot of great participation from big law firms to non-lawyers who care about access to justice.

Mediation

Mediation is a great alternative to going to court where people can have a neutral person help them workout an agreement.

I was able to go to the Mediation Effectiveness: When to Use and How to Make it Work workshop facilitated by Tracey Wiltgen, Executive Director of The Mediation Center of the Pacific.  Tracey was able to highlight the serious need of Hawaii to turn to mediation, especially for those in a lower income situation.  With the costs of going to court high, the cutbacks to the Judiciary’s funding, and other governmental services reduced a lot of societal problems have increased.

Here are some interesting Hawaii statistics on mediation, which relate to the Mediation Centers of Hawaii (MCH), which includes all mediation community centers statewide :

  • During the fiscal year of 2009-2010 the MCH served a total of 3,677 cases.
  • During the first three quarters of fiscal year 2010-2011 the MCH served 3,326 cases.
  • Of the FY10-11 cases, 77% of them were court related and they included:
    • 156 Domestic (divorce and paternity)
    • 207 landlord/tenant
    • 182 consumer/merchant
    • 80 Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)

Among the subject matter of the cases, the rate at which the parties were able to reach written agreement varied, but in general it was between 45% to 64%. These are very good statistics considering many of these are contentious situations.

For the public, you should ask about mediation.  It is a very good alternative to start with rather than going to court immediately.  Consider that it is less formal, costly, and time-consuming.  The focus of mediation is to facilitate communication and work out an agreeable situation between the two parties, which is sometimes lost in court battles.  It is confidential and you still have the option of walking out on the mediation and going to court.  However, with fees being so high isn’t it worth the close to 50-50 chance that you could workout something you agree with?

For attorneys, I think this is a prime opportunity for many of us to look for new skills and the way we approach situations.  Indeed, we should always have trial attorneys, but that should not be the only image that the public conjures when you say the word “lawyer.”  It is true that non-lawyers look to us for answers and help with their legal problems and mediation is certainly one extra tool to help fulfill that task.

Elder Law

Do you have a long-term health care plan? Do you know who will take care of you? Will you have enough money? Many of these are issues that Hawaii's elders face right now.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to my fellow solo practitioner and 2011 Leadership Institute member, Scott Suzuki.  I was able to go to his workshop on Access to Justice for the Elderly and I was shocked to find out that Hawaii did not have elder abuse laws or caregiver neglect.  At best you would have to cobble together different parts of the law to establish a claim.  In addition, the state has no filial responsibility law, which establishes the duty for adult children to care for their indigent elderly parents.

Now, I most people would already have the inclination of, “this Hawaii, we already do that in our culture,” which I agree wholeheartedly.  Having a strong culture that cares about family and friends is what makes Hawaii an awesome place.  However, we should have the laws to back it up.

Lastly, with you many attorneys separate health care planning out from estate planning.  You should consider an attorney that can handle both because consider as you are aging, money does become an issue as does your health, to think that the two are unrelated, and that once you die the medical bills and estate will be resolved by the people you leave behind is disjointed.  I fully agreed you should seek out an estate planner that has empathy for caring for an aging parent and sets up and estate plan that works for not just the parent, but all takes into account the reality of family dynamics.

—-

For more information:

See the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission

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