Courts Should Make Mediation Good Samaritans not Frankensteins


Here’s a short article you might be interested in.

Using a recent California appellate decision as a jumping off point, this short article identifies problems with mandatory mediation. It recommends that courts use good dispute system design procedures to help fulfill the goals of mediation as Good Samaritans and to reduce risks of creating Frankensteins – mediation that produces injustices.

The discussion begins by analyzing Breslin v. Breslin, a recent 2-1 decision by the California Court of Appeal.  In this probate case, some potential beneficiaries failed to attend mandated mediation.  The parties who attended the mediation reached an agreement and the appellate court upheld a decision enforcing the agreement, thus causing the non-participating parties to forfeit their rights.

The majority faulted the non-participating parties for failing to attend the initial probate hearing and object to mediation at that time.  According to the dissent, the non-participating parties filed an objection before the court approved the mediated agreement, which “disinherited” them and “redistributed their gifts to other parties contrary to the testator’s express directions.”

The Breslin majority wrote, “the mediation ordered by the probate court, like the trial in Smith, was an essential part of the probate proceedings.”

This article explains why the Court’s perspective takes dispute resolution down the wrong road, and it recommends that courts use dispute system design procedures, particularly to protect against coercion.

It builds on (and links to) important work by Lisa Blomgren Amsler, Jim Coben, Sarah Cole, Dwight Golann, Julie Macfarlane, Jan Martinez, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Frank Sander, Stephanie Smith, Peter Thompson, Nancy Welsh, and others.

The folks who read earlier drafts don’t all agree about my arguments.

See what you think.


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


The Promise and Perils of Collaborative Law

Originally published in Dispute Resolution Magazine, Vol. 12, p. 29, Fall 2005 - republished with permissionGetting people to use an interest-based approach in negotiation has been a difficult problem. Experts...

By John Lande

The Tax Reform Law Impacts Families

As our heads swirl with the many changes evoked by the new Tax Reform Law, we thought it might be beneficial, for clients both past and current, to have an...

By Dr. Lynne C. Halem

Rising Tides Raise All Boats

Fairly Legal Blog by Clare FowlerThe mediation field was just able to celebrate Conflict Resolution Day. We all shared ideas, graphics, events, advertising. As a field, we did something together....

By Clare Fowler

Find a Mediator