Nov 02, 2019
Beyond Prosecution: The District Attorney’s Office Resolves Consumer and Community Disputes
Nov 02, 2019
By Kristina Warcholski
Did you know that your District Attorney's Office serves the community in more than just a prosecutorial role? For more than 40 years, the Marin County District Attorney's Office has had a Consumer Protection Division, which has provided no-cost dispute resolution assistance to thousands of Marin County residents.
The Consumer Protection Division primarily enforces a broad range of consumer protection laws, but from the Division’s inception, the Consumer Mediation Unit has expanded the Division's role beyond enforcement to address issues that are proper for mediation. The Unit provides dispute resolution services for those without the means to hire a private mediator or whose disputes were not ripe for the filing of a civil action.
The Consumer Mediation Unit comprises two full-time mediators (including a bilingual mediator) and eight dedicated volunteer mediators, all of whom are retired professionals, including several attorneys. All have extensive experience beyond required mediation training and the CMU matches their diverse experience to the wide range of consumer and community issues it handles. These include:
- Consumer-vendor billing
- Landlord-tenant issues
- Construction and home repair
- Automobile sales and repair
- Financial and credit concerns
- Internet sales
- Transportation (DMV, Fastrak and public transit)
- Communication (phone companies, internet providers)
- Insurance and medical billing
- Neighbor, community, and homeowners' association disagreements
The CMU’s mediation services do not extend to criminal acts, complex financial disputes, family/divorce matters, and probate/trust issues.
In the last year, the CMU has also become the mediation services provider for the County of Marin's Rental Housing Dispute Resolution Program, which provides for mandatory mediation for rental increases greater than 5% occurring in unincorporated Marin County. The CMU provides mediation services for similar programs in the City of San Rafael and the Town of Fairfax. These programs have been successful in providing a neutral forum for parties to air their differences, as well as to educate landlords and tenants about their rights and responsibilities under the law.
The CMU’s function differs slightly from traditional private mediators, who are often hired as a result of matters currently in litigation. It accepts only matters that have not been filed in court, including small claims court. The goal is to help the parties resolve their differences, whenever possible, without the need to hire an attorney, thus keeping parties out of the court system. Funded by taxpayers or volunteering their time, the CMU’s mediators are true neutrals with no financial interest or incentive, enabling them to fully focus on providing the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue that results in a resolution where both sides feel heard. When the need for legal assistance sometimes becomes necessary, parties may still use the CMU’s services, but attorneys serve as "legal advisors" during the process, leaving the talking to the parties.
While the vast majority of mediations within Marin County are handled by highly-qualified private mediators, it's good to know that those without the financial means to pay for mediation have an alternative resource for help resolving disputes. You can learn more about the program on the District Attorney’s website.
Kristina Warcholski is currently the Consumer and Community Mediation Coordinator for the Marin County District Attorney's Office. She heads a group of mediators who help those with consumer issues resolve their disputes through mediation. Her community outreach responsibilities include speaking to civic groups in the county, as well as managing and staffing booths at various local venues. Kristina is a licensed attorney with over 30 years of legal experience. Before coming to the Marin District Attorney's Office, Kristina was a supervising deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County. Kristina grew up in Corte Madera and is delighted to finally be working in the county where she grew up.