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Mediation firm champions comfort

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Carol Terzo proudly states that visitors will find no traditional office furniture at The Mediation Option. At this alternative dispute resolution firm on the north side of Indianapolis, even the dry-erase boards – made of bamboo – are designed to feel homey and inviting.

During a mediation, “There can be a lot of down time,” Terzo said as she pointed out a room where guests can watch TV, relax, or play Guitar Hero. It’s this laid-back atmosphere that Terzo and her associates say distinguish them from other mediators in Indiana.

Trading spaces

mediation group The Mediation Option’s attorneys, from left, Elodie Meuser, Carol Terzo, Lori Anne Perryman, and Noah Schafer, in one of the firm’s mediation rooms. (Not pictured is Emily Bubb). (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Last year, Terzo began to long for a change of scenery. She had worked for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for 22 years, presiding over many civil and family law cases in her roles as a commissioner, a master commissioner, and a senior judge. And she remembered an ADR course she had taken two decades earlier – perhaps the second such class offered in the state, she recalled.

“I thought it was such a wonderful thing to do,” she said about mediation.

So she decided she would open her own ADR office. She mentioned the idea to Lori Anne Perryman, an attorney working in the child support division of the prosecutor’s office. She told Perryman about her idea on a Monday, and by Tuesday, Perryman had decided that when Terzo left, she would go with her.

Perryman had worked for 10 years in the child support division and was known for her success in the collection of unpaid child support. But the job was demanding. “It’s hard not to take that work home with you,” she said.

Also a prosecutor in the child support division, Perryman’s friend Elodie Meuser liked Terzo’s dream of opening an ADR firm. “I was looking for something different,” she said. “I was tired of fighting – I felt like everyone thought I was the enemy.”

The three women decided they would begin looking for a space for an ADR office, finally settling on their location at 93rd and Meridian streets because they liked its proximity to Interstate 465.

Meanwhile, Noah Schafer, an attorney in the prosecutor’s office homicide unit, heard rumors that his colleagues were leaving to start an ADR firm. “I still thought maybe it was a half-baked idea,” he said. But once he talked to them and realized how much research they had done, he figured he should take a chance, and he joined them at TMO.

The four attorneys rounded out the staff with the addition of Emily Bubb, a registered family law mediator. Bubb is not an attorney, but Terzo thinks that’s an advantage – not all clients want to talk to an attorney.

“As you look at us, we all have various strengths and weaknesses,” said Terzo, who calls herself “the token old person.”

Every Friday, the group meets to discuss upcoming mediations and who is best-suited to talk to the parties involved. Terzo said they prefer two mediators to work on a case, a technique known as co-mediation, which she said is new to Indiana.

Some people may be more comfortable talking to a woman, a man, a non-attorney; but most importantly, Terzo said, clients seem to appreciate working with two people. The mediators may not always agree on the best resolution, and as they amicably discuss possible alternatives, clients can witness compromise in action.

ADR v. litigation

People save money by settling disputes out of court. But the less-tangible benefits of ADR may be equally satisfying for TMO’s clients and staff.

“Litigation has kind of a cookie-cutter resolution,” Schafer said, with outcomes of disputes being limited by the constraints of the court system. Perryman added that even when cases are settled in court, the parties involved are often left wanting something more.

“People didn’t have this complete sense of closure,” she said of the many cases she handled for the prosecutor’s office. “They really wanted to express these other things.”

Perryman said that being able to express themselves brings people a sense of relief, and if people can’t say what they want to say, sometimes, “It just festers, and the conflict never goes away.”

Terzo said it’s interesting to watch body language during mediation. Clients who are tense, with their arms drawn close to their body, may – by the end of mediation – be stretched out comfortably on the couch. Mediators can see the relief their clients feel.

All of the TMO attorneys say mediation works for most types of cases, even victim-offender cases. “Except murder,” Schafer interjected. And because of their background in the prosecutor’s office, Perryman says they are familiar with the tension that can arise from complicated personal disputes. If people should be kept apart, each party can be in different rooms, with the mediators literally going back and forth to reach a resolution.

Terzo said she thinks the cozy, inviting environment may help alleviate those interpersonal tensions, noting that even the tough-guy cable TV installers “oohed” and “aahed” when they saw the space.

Despite their best efforts, some issues cannot be resolved – or at least not completely.

In one case, a time constraint resulted in an incomplete mediation. Mediators resolved all but a few issues.

Budget-conscious clients may hope to achieve a lot in a minimal amount of time. Terzo recalled one mediation in which the clients wanted to resolve their conflict in one hour. While the TMO staff nodded in agreement about that being a short time in which to achieve results, Terzo said they were able to do it. The clients were so satisfied, they came back for further mediation.

Even when mediators can’t completely resolve a dispute, Schafer said, “It’s never a waste of time.” Often, one of the greatest benefits of mediation is simply being able to communicate. “They get to see how to talk to each other,” Terzo said.

Building a client base

Some clients find their way to TMO through the Internet, and many come through referrals.

Meuser said if judges have a case in court that they think could be resolved through mediation, they will provide the involved parties with the names of three mediators.

“I’ve been amazed so far,” Terzo said of the volume of clients they have had since opening in January. Schafer said the demand for their services demonstrates the necessity for mediation firms.

TMO’s clients sometimes attend mediation on their own, and people with active or pending court cases may bring along their attorneys.

Perryman said busy attorneys appreciate being able to remediate. Meuser recalled that at the prosecutor’s office she was unable to spend as much time with clients as she would have liked, which is one reason she enjoys her work at TMO – the time she spends talking to people.

Schafer said people in general may wrongly believe that attorneys deliberately drag out their work to increase billable hours. Quite the opposite, he says, “I think attorneys are happy when things get resolved quickly.”

“We make attorneys look good,” he said. “Especially when an attorney comes with a client to the office, and the client gets to see (his/her attorney) advocate for them in a way they can’t in court.”•

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  • Satisfied Client
    I have used TMO, and specifically Mr. Schafer, to mediate dissolution of marriage proceedings and have been very satisfied with the outcome and the professional approach!
  • Good Job Guys
    Great attorneys that will do well in this specialty. Keep up the good work!!!

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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