Alternative Dispute Resolution

Professor Gates and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Henry Louis Gates, a black Harvard professor, was arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts by a white police officer on July 16. Upon returning from a trip to China, Professor Gates and his driver forced their way through the front door because it was jammed.

A woman who witnessed the event called 911 and stated, "I don't know what's happening." She also said, "I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use a shoulder to try to barge in, and they got in," she said, adding that she saw the men had two suitcases. When she was asked if the men were white, black or Hispanic, she said that one of the men looked kind of Hispanic but she wasn't sure and she didn't see what the other man looked like.

Professor Gates, an African-American studies expert, was arrested for disorderly conduct after presenting proof to police that he lived at the house. The arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley, stated in his written police report that Professor Gates became angry when he told him he was investigating a report of a break-in, then yelled at him and called him a racist.

Professor Gates was held for four hours and released with all charges dropped. He claimed he was the victim of racial profiling. President Barack Obama initially said the police acted "stupidly" during the arrest but later expressed regret over making the comment.

Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley have accepted an invitation from the President to meet over a beer at the White House.

As of now, no lawsuits have been filed but alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may be a possible solution to the controversy between Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley.

ADR Solution

Suing someone in court isn't the only way to solve a legal problem. ADR offers an alternative way to solve legal problems outside of court. There are many different kinds of ADR. But all of them use a neutral person to decide a case or help both sides come to an agreement without a trial.

Types of ADR

Two of the more common types of ADR are mediation and arbitration. In mediation, an impartial person called a mediator helps the parties reach a resolution to their dispute. The mediator does not decide the dispute but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves. Once an agreement is reached through mediation and a judge approves it, the conditions of the agreement are legally binding. If no agreement is reached, the plaintiff still has the right to pursue the matter in court.

In arbitration, a neutral person called an arbitrator decides the outcome of a case. The arbitrator hears arguments and evidence from each side before making a decision. Arbitration may be either binding or nonbinding. The parties agree to be bound by the arbitrator's decision and give up their right to a trial in binding arbitration. Nonbinding arbitration means that the parties are free to request a trial if they do not agree with the arbitrator's decision.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do mediators and arbitrators have special training and how should I select one to help resolve my dispute?
  • Is a mediation agreement legally binding or can I take my case to court after signing an agreement?
  • Can the parties appeal an arbitrator's decision?
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