DR MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
DR Section Member Spotlight: Attorney and neutral Jeanne M. Kempthorne
Accessible assistance, effective encouragement, refreshing results.
Early in her career, former Hill & Barlow litigator Jeanne Kempthorne was struck by how prohibitively expensive, cruel, and destructive litigation often is, particularly when the warring parties were formerly friendly neighbors, roommates, family, spouses, lovers, or business partners. She was struck by how litigation was ill-suited to resolving non-monetary disputes between ordinary people. At the same time, she became fascinated by how minor conflicts escalate and become intractable and protracted, seldom yielding to shared concerns and interests without some sort of intervention, and wanted to learn more about less warlike and destructive ways to manage the inevitable stresses of non-aligned interests.
After a long segue in criminal practice, first as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and later as a criminal defense and appellate lawyer, Jeanne cultivated her interest in dispute resolution by training as a mediator and arbitrator and by taking courses in negotiation and the psychology of conflict in the U. Mass. graduate program in conflict resolution.
Since her training in 2003 and 2004, Jeanne has mediated or conciliated untold numbers of civil cases privately and in the Essex County conciliation program; she also participated in the now-superseded federal court program. The most challenging and satisfying cases were always those where the conflicts stemmed from or were infused with deep emotion: disappointment, betrayal, estrangement, anger, love, and frustrated hope. Until 2013, her dispute resolution practice took a back seat to the daily exigencies of criminal practice and, for five years, to her duties as a member of the State Ethics Commission. In 2013, Jeanne began to devote more of her professional energy to her dispute resolution practice, founding Good Neighbor Mediation Project to serve the unmet needs of neighbors, condominium associations, property managers, landlords, tenants, and the community for efficient and effective methods to address conflicts in troubled relationships. Working with the YMCA and its tenants on conflict management and communication skills, as well as mediating neighbor disputes among people in danger of losing their subsidized housing, has provided a gratifying opportunity to assist an underserved population. She also encourages condominium association boards to resist the impulse to enforce rules by imposing ever-increasing fines and liens without first trying to talk through the difficulties. “I think there is a huge need for mediation and facilitation services to small condominium boards that are not professionally managed. Many owners of two-, three-, or four-unit condominiums find themselves unable to move forward on needed repairs, to establish budgets, or even to collect association dues.”
Because Jeanne focuses primarily on conflict partners who are still in relationship, or who need to co-exist in harmony rather than walk away, she adheres to process mediation rather strictly, resisting the rights-and-obligations frame the parties often seek to set at the outset. Reality-testing in this context is often, although not always, more about the feasibility of non-monetary solutions than it is about the legal merits of the parties’ positions. “I try to employ the techniques of non-violent and non-defensive communication as much as I can. I encourage neighbors to address each other directly – even when they initially can’t bear to be in the same room together – while at the same time keeping the interaction safe for all participants.” Keeping the parties in joint session longer than is typical in a commercial context enables Jeanne to de-escalate the tone of the dialogue and help the parties learn to speak to each other with respect and greater compassion.
Jeanne has been a long-time member of the board of Common Cause Massachusetts, recently serving as vice chair, to which she brings her experience and expertise in government ethics. She is currently legal advisor to non-profits Quiet Communities, Inc. and The Quiet Coalition, both of which seek to reduce environmental noise – probably the number one neighbor complaint.
We applaud Jeanne for her unique and interesting approach to assisting under-served communities!
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