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At the Intersection of Public Policy and Private Process: Court-Ordered Mediation and the Remedial Process in School Funding Litigation

Author(s): Molly Townes O'Brien

Using Ohio's experience with court-ordered mediation in school finance litigation as a point of departure, this article examines the potential for court-ordered mediation to provide procedural justice in the remedial phase of institutional reform litigation. The article begins by sketching out some of the difficulties that courts encounter when designing a remedy in a school finance case and some of the reasons why, at least in the abstract, a mediation process may assist the parties and the court. Next, the article provides a brief history of the DeRolph v. State, 758 N.E. 2d 1113 (Ohio 2001), placing the abstract remedial concepts against the concrete details of a particular case. It then explores some possible reasons for the failure of the DeRolph mediation and suggests what might have been done to create a better possibility for success.

In spite of the failure of the DeRolph mediation, this article suggests that mediation may play a productive role in the future of school finance cases. Court-ordered mediation may permit the re-structuring of the remedial process in a way that addresses minority rights which often are lost or minimized in the traditional legislative process. Further, a participatory mediation process holds promise for achieving remedial results in a school finance case that are both educationally viable and politically sustainable. Mediation may open new avenues for the resolution of litigation at the intersection of private process and public policy.

Several lessons may be drawn from the DeRolph litigation. DeRolph teaches that mediation is more likely to play a positive role in the resolution of an important institutional reform case if it is considered as a primary avenue of achieving remedial results rather than as a very last resort. Further, any court considering whether to order the mediation of an important institutional reform case should be attentive to creating a substantive and procedural framework that will support the parties' motivation and effort to devise their own remedy. This article encourages the court to support court-ordered mediation by providing a clear and unequivocal statement of the rights of the parties and remedial principles that apply in the case and by outlining fall-back remedial procedures that will be implemented if resolution is not achieved. The court should also consider the legitimacy benefit that may accrue from the participation of a broad group of interested constituencies and construct a framework that supports the mediator's efforts to identify and include a broad group of stakeholders.

This article represents an effort to learn from past failure and to plan for future success in school finance mediation and other public law litigation.

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Research theme: Criminal Law, Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Social Justice, Legal Education

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