Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 12, 2018

New ownership for Arbitration & Mediation Services

Dianne Blankenbaker, the new owner of Arbitration & Mediation Services, with her husband and attorney Jerry Tidwell. - Photograph by Dianne Blankenbaker provided

Arbitration & Mediation Services is back with new owners, new mediators and a fresh coat of dark gray paint – but the same address.

The business closed last year on the retirement of its previous owner, Joe Wilson. Chattanooga’s Dianne Blankenbaker purchased the 1810 McCallie Avenue building, which housed AMS for 25 years, in August and has re-opened the business with Wilson’s blessing.

“Joe has been very helpful and supportive,” Blankenbaker says.

Blankenbaker is serving as operations manager of AMS, which means she’s providing the space and amenities ranging from billing and scheduling to marketing and snacks. (The latter helps keep the parties in a mediation in a room until an agreement is reached, she says.)

Blankenbaker is talking with mediators who are interested in utilizing the space for their work. She says AMS is looking for men and woman who are ethical, focused on growth and doing the work “for the right reasons” (namely, “to make the world a better place”).

Blankenbaker’s husband, attorney and Chattanooga Bar Association member Jerry Tidwell, met his wife’s criteria and is available for mediations through AMS.

Tidwell became a certified mediator in 2000 so he could better serve as an attorney advocate in mediations, a voluntary process in which the parties in a dispute resolve the matter outside a courtroom.

Since then, he estimates he’s participated in more than 200 mediations, including a case in which a woman was swindled out of a large sum of money in a Ponzi scheme.

“Adam Izell and I were the only two lawyers who got any money for our client in that case. No one else collected a penny,” he says. “We did it by suing the organizations responsible for overseeing the culprit, who had to have known what was going on.

“We beat on them until they said, ‘We have to give these guys something so they’ll go away.’”

Tidwell adds his success rate as a lawyer in mediations is 90 percent. He defines success as resolving a case on terms he considers fair. “Sometimes, my clients have wanted more, but we’re not talking about cases where someone asked for $100,000 and got $5,000.”

Tidwell became re-certified this past June in preparation to serve as a mediator. He can also act as an arbitrator. Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution decided by one or more persons who render an “arbitration award.” An arbitration award is legally binding on both sides and enforceable in the courts.

A trial attorney who’s been advocating for plaintiffs and defendants in both civil and criminal cases for 37 years, Tidwell says his long history of courtroom battles has given him the experience that will make him effective in the role.

“I’ve tried everything from probate matters to car accidents to product liability cases,” he adds. “I’ve handled just about every kind of civil case there is and most criminal cases, too.”

Tidwell estimates he’s argued close to 200 jury trials, 500 bench trials and 200 appellate arguments, in addition to “thousands” of depositions and motion arguments. “I have a lot of knowledge and experience due to the many, many trials I’ve handled and many, many cases I handled that didn’t go to trial,” he says.

Mediations gained in popularity as an alternative to going to court in the late 1980s. Tidwell attended his first mediation in 1990 – as a client, not an attorney.

“My mother was killed in a car accident. We resolved that case in mediation,” he recalls. “When I saw that the process worked, I started to encourage my clients to mediate.”

Tidwell says arbitration and mediation have a number of benefits over going to trial. In addition to saving some of the time and expense involved in going to court, there’s less emotional wear-and-tear.

“People don’t know what they’re getting into when they walk into a court room. Even if someone like me doesn’t beat them up on the witness stand, a considerable amount of emotional damage can be done to an individual,” Tidwell explains. “I’ve seen people I considered to be emotionally strong crack during a civil trial and never recover.”

Blankenbaker adds that alternative dispute resolution places more control over the process of resolving a matter in the hands of the parties involved.

“When you go to trial, the schedule is largely outside your control, and if you’re trying to reach a resolution about a major hurdle in your life, you’ll have a big weight on your shoulders for months and possibly years,” she points out.

“And in some cases, people are in dire financial need because of whatever has gone wrong.”

Another benefit, Blankenbaker says, is that disputes can be resolved quicker, which frees up attorneys to attend to other clients.

Also, Tidwell says, there’s less uncertainty. “If you want to roll the dice, go to trial,” he says. “You can never know what 12 people are going to decide.”

Tidwell will also be continuing to practice law through Tidwell & Associates, which will be housed in the same building as AMS.

Much of his practice is focused on civil matters, but he does some criminal defense and probate work. “I don’t want my clients to feel abandoned,” he says.

To schedule a mediation or arbitration at AMS, visit www.arbitrationmediationcha.com.