How often have you taken your car in for repairs, paid the bill and then, a week later, found that the repairs either weren't made properly or weren't done at all? In anger, you call the place of repair and complain. The manager testily retorts: "If you don't like it, sue us!" Or perhaps you have a neighbor, once a good friend, but now sullen because you accused him of damaging your fence with his riding power mower. Both situations are fraught with tension and unhappiness . And both sides may suffer emotionally and financially for months, never actually resolving the problem. Law courts in these instances offer little help. Here in Los Angeles, where thousands of cases are litigated each year, the average jury trial costs more than US $10,000. On top of that, more than two thirds of each dollar awarded by a court usually goes to pay for the litigation. In the United States alone, as estimated by a Rand Corporation study, annual legal costs regularly top $2 billion! Happily, an innovative system of resolving such disputes is slowly, like the proverbial grain of a mustard seed, taking hold in the United States and elsewhere. John Van de Kamp, California attorney general, succinctly sums it up: "The idea is simply to let individuals solve their disputes between themselves rather than become antagonists guided by lawyers in a courtroom." The state attorney general is not illustrating an empty wish. He describes here the process that takes place as many as 100 times a month in the Community Dispute Resolution Center in nearby Pasadena. This Center, founded and funded in part by the Ambassador Foundation, has the wide support of judges, lawyers and community officials. Instead of letting lawyers inflame and battle out disputes, the Center brings the offended parties together — face to face — where they hammer out a mutually acceptable solution. "It is a very satisfying experience," says Frank Zupan, 45, executive director of the Center, "to see people whose friendship was split by a small, insignificant matter quickly resolve their disputes and patch up their friendship." "We find that many disputes are simply the result of misunderstandings," he continued in an interview with The Plain Truth. "When we actually get the parties together, soon a mental light bulb suddenly switches on. 'I didn't realize that this is what you meant,' one may say. And then literally, often in a matter of minutes, good feelings are restored and an agreement is reached. Many people are so relieved and happy that one often says, 'Hey, let's go home, get the wives and go out to dinner.' And this comes from people whose friendship may have been broken many years ago," Mr. Zupan emphasizes. The Center serves several communities in the Los Angeles area. To use its services, a person may contact the Center and file a complaint. Instead of paying an expensive retainer to an attorney, the person simply pays $5. That is the only cost. The Center then contacts the other party in the complaint and gathers facts from both sides. A date is set and the offended individuals come together privately at the Center with a trained mediator. Emotions and facts are separated as a qualified mediator clears the lines of communications. Together, in an atmosphere of cooperation and problem-solving. the group works together on a solution that is mutually acceptable. All cases and names are kept confidential. If the two parties cannot arrive at a solution themselves, the Center offers an arbitration service. Here each party agrees to be bound by the solution determined by independent arbitrators. Follow-up calls are made to see if both parties are abiding by the agreements. In all cases, the Center has achieved a high success rate. "We have successfully resolved about 95 percent of all cases that have come to us," reports .Mr. Zupan. The resolution time is also drastically reduced through the mediation process. "A civil trial often takes up to five full years to resolve," Mr. Zupan explains. "Here at the Dispute Center we resolve most cases within seven to 10 days!" The main advantage the Dispute Center has over the civil legal system is that it avoids the adversary approach in resolving cases. "We don't allow threats or the attempted destruction of people's character," Mr. Zupan says. "We aim at resolving the core underlying root of problems — not the symptoms." In a so-called civilized world that spawns far too much legal angst, a lesson can be learned from the small Community Dispute Resolution Center and its noble effort. Let's hope we do.