The tenants were deal-making Americans through and through. If they had a theme song, it might have been by Bruce Springsteen. They just wanted a week or so to pack and leave, and they could perhaps offer some of the deposit money to close a deal.
It quickly became apparent that there would be no deal, and I took everyone back to the courtroom. Perhaps sensing a train wreck on the courtroom floor, the judge admonished them all to try harder. We did so without success, and I took them back again just before lunch. Perhaps the judge was getting hungry by that point, because the clerk later told me that the hearing on possession lasted only a few minutes before it was continued for two weeks. The Heavens did not open up, and I have always wondered if the tenants had the good sense to pack and leave at that point.
When I am not doing family cases, you can often find me in the Denver County Court, working with the onsite mediation program. It is the cases that don’t settle that linger in my mind, those being the ones to learn from.
This case was interesting on several levels. Neither party in the mediation, least of all the tenants, had questioned the landlord’s paperwork or right to have the eviction case heard. At a surface level, the argument was about the money owed, and any offsets against the deposit, and of course, the departure-date.
Even I was a bit blind sided by the court’s continuance on its own motion: I like to be able to predict such things. I’ve seen people go into court after a failed mediation, and bring up entirely new game changing facts that they had never even hinted at in mediation. This case reminded me that my former colleagues also throw things for a loop on occasion. I now talk more about the certainty and control offered by resolving things in mediation. I also press my own views on likely outcome a bit less strongly, and talk-up the legalized gambling aspect of resolving things in court.
With the landlords’ strong statements about the moral character of the tenants, compromise in mediation quickly became unacceptable in terms of the husband loosing face. How I wished I had done an initial caucus to discover all this. While the tenants were working at a level of operational values of time and money, the landlords were talking about deeply held moral beliefs that defined their view of the world, and their place in it. Their concept of the role and function of the court was tied right up in there. They were simply unwilling to come to the practical time and money terms needed to do a deal.
During the mediation, I failed to dislodge the landlords’ belief that it would all come right when they spoke honestly to the judge. I rather suspect the court did that for them.