New center takes aim at conflict

Richard Pershing, director of the Center for Conflict Resolution at La Sierra University.
Richard Pershing, director of the Center for Conflict Resolution at La Sierra University.

March 11, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( According to a recent survey of 403 in-house corporate attorneys, business litigation in the United States and the United Kingdom is expected to continue its upward trajectory this year.

Of respondents to the “Litigation Trends Survey,” administered last year by international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, most believe legal disputes will either increase or remain the same. The attorneys, who work for companies of all sizes in various industries, expect contracts and labor/employment actions to consume a large chunk of litigation resources, according to Fulbright & Jaworski’s October report.

The onslaught of civil litigation is overwhelming the nation’s courts and judges often order warring parties to consider alternative steps to resolve their conflict. “That step is fast becoming mediation,” says Don Lancaster an attorney in Woodland Hills who recently completed a 40-hour course for a certificate in mediation at La Sierra University in Riverside.

Toward meeting the growing need for mediation as a cost-effective, less damaging method of resolving disputes, La Sierra University’s School of Business is rolling out its latest enterprise, the Center for Conflict Resolution. The center, which will officially launch in May, offers professional mediation certification courses and is continuing a series of pilot training sessions that began last October.

As of the first of March, more than 75 individuals had completed the program, said center Director Richard Pershing, a partner in the Riverside law firm of Reynolds, Jensen and Swan, LLP. Pershing is also a mediator serving on the Riverside Superior Court mediation panel and with the Riverside County Bar Association Dispute Resolution Service. La Sierra’s conflict resolution program covers specialized areas including education, health care, law and church life. Those who have completed the program include lawyers, physicians, nurses, ministers, educators, real estate agents and many other leaders interested in polishing their conflict-solving skills.

La Sierra University is one of 15 Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. La Sierra’s Center for Conflict Resolution is the first such entity within the Adventist denomination. The center’s mission draws on the conflict resolution values contained in the biblical story of the prodigal son, as depicted in the large sculpture at La Sierra’s entrance, and “aspires for ‘Prodigal Peacemaking’ to be a centralized component of La Sierra University’s culture,” Pershing said. “It is the mission of the center to make conflict resolution an integral part of the conversation of the Seventh-day Adventist community and to train the Adventist community to incorporate peacemaking as an integral part of its service to the communities in which it lives and serves.”

“Each person we have trained has given us evaluations stating that taking our course has changed their life. We believe this impact has occurred because our program is not solely based on a transaction model, but incorporates into it the transformational,” Pershing said. “We transform individuals and how they view conflict in their lives.”
The program consists of a 40-hour training course with 20 hours of online study and 20 hours of classroom instruction, usually taking place over a weekend. Cost for the 40-hour web-assisted basic mediation course is $1,450. Those interested in receiving additional information may call 951-785-2601.

In November, the State Bar of California certified the course for 40 hours of continuing legal education credit. The State Bar of Tennessee and the Loma Linda University School of Medicine also certified the course for continuing legal and medical education credit, respectively. Course graduates receive a certificate from the La Sierra University School of Business. The course meets the basic education requirement for most mediation panels such as the mediation panels for Riverside County’s Superior and Small Claims courts and community civil mediation, and for the Los Angeles County Bar Association civil and civic mediation programs.

Conflict in the workplace can sometimes result in lawsuits, administrative claims, hostile work environments and lost productivity. Mediation is an extension of negotiation that allows parties involved to obtain a sense of control of the quality of their relationship, shore up mutual commitment and build the authenticity of the relationship. Trained mediators are impartial individuals who assist the parties through confidential communications in identifying issues, interests and options. The process focuses on the parties’ interests rather than on right or wrong positions.

Robert Macomber, retired Riverside Superior Court judge and a La Sierra University alumnus, participated in the March mediation training session at the new center. He wanted to learn more about the center’s services. “I think there’s a great need for it. It seems there are far more disputes as time goes on,” he said.

Mediation can help solve problems while increasing the odds of preserving relationships, and can do so in a cost-effective manner, said Meredith Jobe of Glendale law firm Jobe & Stoterau. Jobe is also a La Sierra University trustee. He participated in a mediation course held March 4 – 6.

Jobe’s law practice is transactional in nature and he favors avoiding litigation, he said. Furthermore the mediation course allowed him to meet continuing legal education requirements. “First, the course provided a vocabulary and framework for organizing some of what I already do in my practice. Second, it provided a number of mock mediation exercises, with critiques. And, third, the team of faculty, together with the written materials, provided a wealth of resources for future learning,” commented Jobe.

“As society becomes more inclined to use mediation, there will be a growing need for more mediators,” he said. “In addition, it can be an important ministry both within a congregation and as an outreach to the community.”

Former California State Assemblyman Steve Clute also participated in a December conflict resolution training course. “It was just a very open and honest exercise in communication, in communicating without judging,” he said. “There is definitely quite a need out there [with] the cost of going to court and all the attorneys fees.” It’s important to have options available, he said, and individuals should ascertain when to pursue litigation, when to seek an attorney’s advice and when to pursue mediation.

Lancaster, the Woodland Hills attorney, learned of the new center and its offerings by way of an email about the center mistakenly sent by Pershing to one of Lancaster’s clients. After talking to Pershing and discovering the location and background of the program, Lancaster decided to attend a training session. “I learned as a litigator required to participate in court-ordered mediation the value of the mediator, and I wanted to understand the theory and skills to enhance my practice and possibly become a mediator,” he said.

During a December pilot session he attended, Lancaster learned to listen “for the issue behind the issue” and search for common ground, he said. “All of our trainers were first rate with tons of experience so I really felt like I was in good hands as an attorney.” As a result of the training he is now less adversarial in handling litigation or potential litigation and is volunteering with the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s program.

Whether dealing with frustrated department personnel or aiding individuals struggling with traumatic incidences, sheriff’s chaplain Jim Clizbe is putting his refined mediation skills to good use.

Clizbe, who serves as department chaplain for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, recently completed a certified mediation training course offered through the new conflict resolution center. In the training he learned techniques that build upon the conflict resolution abilities he acquired “through the school of hard knocks,” he said, when he worked 35 years in various leadership roles for the Seventh-day Adventist education system.

Clizbe, who also serves as board chair for La Sierra Academy in Riverside and for a charter school, manages the services of approximately 35 volunteer sheriff’s department chaplains and coordinates the department’s peer support program which involves 50 to 60 trained individuals.

“Conflict resolution is basically having the ability to listen to the issues on both sides and help the parties find common ground they can agree on to move forward from the point of conflict,” Clizbe said. “Chaplains and peer support are in unique positions to use the listening skills and guided discussion abilities taught in the conflict resolution course. It is my goal to share some of these principles with these groups to make their role even more meaningful,” he said.

The center also will beta test a course entitled “Mediation as a Second Language” to train conflict resolution across cultures and languages. It offers executive and conflict coaching training and other web-based, non-credit courses. In addition, the center is planning the initiation of a civility software reporting system combined with peer neutral training for all interested Seventh-day Adventist schools in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

A number of Adventist education leaders have taken the training program.

When a problem arose recently between others, Jonathan Park, Asian/Pacific ministries director for the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Riverside, employed his newly acquired skills as a certified mediator to resolve the issue. Through careful questioning, core assumptions were revealed, issues clarified and the parties were able to move on, he said.

“If leaders of churches and institutions have this skill set, when they utilize it people will feel understood,” allowing healing and forgiveness to take place, Park said.

A Versafund grant from Versacare Inc. in Riverside is underwriting course development, beta testing of the course and staff costs. Mediation trainers include Pershing, executive coach and consultant Patti Cotton Pettis, La Sierra management professor and attorney Dulce Peña, and Tony Belak, attorney and former senior dispute resolution counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Belak also serves as the center’s associate director. He is the ombudsman for the University of Louisville in Kentucky which employs nearly 10,000 people. He is also president of the Mediation Association of Kentucky and as past president of the Federal ADR Council Inc.

Pettis’ background includes more than 25 years in leadership and management including serving as executive director of philanthropy at Loma Linda University Medical Center and executive director of the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Peña is a former associate general counsel for the Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center. Her additional past experience includes serving as a business and employment litigation attorney for Riverside law firm Thompson & Colegate LLP.

Additional experienced individuals are working with the center to offer school and family mediation training, conflict resolution training for congregations and for education.

The Center for Conflict Resolution is the fourth such entity to roll out from the La Sierra University School of Business. The school also houses the Center for Philanthropy, the Edward C. Allred Center and the Transnational Research Consortium, a think tank of economic and political researchers.

“The school is looking to address unfilled needs within the Adventist and global communities,” said School of Business Dean John Thomas. “The Center for Conflict Resolution was founded to meet the growing need for addressing and mitigating contention.”


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  March 14, 2011