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Thursday, September 29, 2022


Two Virgin Islands lawyers and mediators had a chance to meet the real-life lawyers who argued both sides of the toxic waste-dumping case that prompted the book "A Civil Action" and the movie starring John Travolta.
Attorneys and mediators Julie Evert and Dick Knoepfel returned this week from the American Bar Association Mediation conference in Boston where the attorneys who were involved in the notorious civil suit in the '80s met again for the first time in 15 years.
Sparks flew.
The case involved eight children diagnosed with leukemia and their parents who sued two companies in Woburn, Mass., W. R. Grace and the Beatrice Corp., accusing them of polluting the water with cancer-causing toxins.
Students from the University of Texas Law School had made a video of a mock mediation of the case to show that mediation would have made a big difference in settling the case, which went on for nine years and took the attorney for the families to the brink of bankruptcy.
Dick Knoepfel, a certified civil federal and territorial mediator, said, "It was a good thing there was a podium between them," referring to the opposing counsel in the case who engaged in a renewed battle at the conference over what should have happened 15 years ago.
But there were people with even more impressive credentials at the conference, according to Julie Evert, the cofounder of the American Mediation Institute, now owned by Nancy Clark.
Many of the classes were taught by members of the Harvard School of Negotiation, founded by Roger Fisher.
Fisher recently helped settle a border dispute between Peru and Ecuador, which, in effect, ended an armed conflict, according to Evert.
One of Fisher's students, a Boston clergyman, traveled to Kosovo with Jesse Jackson and was instrumental in helping secure the release of the three servicemen who were being held prisoners of war.
Gary Canner, the other founder of AMI, who is based in Florida, taught a skills class and was the host of a dinner held in Fisher's honor.
This first-ever mediation conference held by the American Bar Association attracted 750 attendees from 10 countries.
"The ABA has held mediation sessions before as part of their annual meeting," Knoepfel said, "but this is the first one they have held as a separate conference. They were expecting 150 people. Seven hundred or more showed up."
Knoepfel, who is by his own admission a litigation lawyer, said, "Anyone who has seen the movie and seen what mediation can do, would understand why going through the court system can be foolhardy."
Evert described mediation as a process that allows an independent facilitator to help the parties involved reach a resolution.
What is the difference between mediation and arbitration? In mediation the facilitator has no power to impose a decision. "The parties own the process," Evert said. "That's why 92 percent of civil cases taken to mediation in the territory are resolved."

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