When it comes to weekly police reports, it’s not uncommon to see multiple calls to residents’ homes over fights with neighbors, disputes with a spouse or some sort of conflict with another person.
Oftentimes these disputes end up in court because neither side is willing to concede, and feel a judge has to decide the issue.
Justice of the Peace Anne Segal has come to a point where she doesn’t believe a courtroom should be the deciding factor in all disputes, and pushing the parties involved to solve their problems in a civil manner has become her goal.
Segal has developed a voluntary pilot program in her courtroom. The program is being called Contract for Civility.
“When neighbors are feuding, oftentimes they take their issues to the court and the judge can issue an injunction, essentially telling each party what they can and cannot do,” said Segal. “Police and the court tell them not to communicate, but this really doesn’t solve anything.”
The Contract for Civility removes the necessity of an injunction and allows a trained mediator to work with the parties to vent and work out their differences.
The mediator meets separately with each party for a set amount of time. After going back and forth and writing all the concerns, the mediator brings all parties back together to write up a civility contract, which outlines each party’s responsibilities in keeping the peace moving forward.
Once all parties agree, the contract is signed and the judge is taken out of the equation.
“Through the contract, each party works out their differences through setting behavioral expectations, and that ends up dismissing the court order, and takes the government completely out of the situation,” Segal said.
The contract is kept confidential, not even Segal is enlightened on the details. Only the parties involved and the mediator know what is in the contract.
Some of the disputes stem over property lines, loud music, oleander trimmings, and many other problems that come up.
Segal estimates that since implementing the program over the last eight months, she has seen an 85 percent success rate, but said she realizes it’s not a solution for everyone.
“Sometimes neighbors have come to a point where they just need to leave each other alone,” Segal said. “At that point, the courts do intervene as needed.”
The contract is non-binding, if one of the parties don’t follow the agreement, the case does return to court, and an injunction is usually levied.
If the program continues to have success, Segal said she’d like to see it used in local high schools where bullying continues to be a problem.
“Overall, I think a Contract for Civility is an opportunity to look for a more peaceful alternative in any dispute,” she said.
Segal is Justice of the Peace for Precinct One. She was elected in 2008, and represents the northern section of Pima County. Her precinct is in the area north of the Rillito River between Catalina Highway and Shannon Road to the town of Catalina.