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The Multi-Door Courthouse-Part 2: The Tulsa, OK Story

Written by special guest author Terry Simonson.

Simonson is presently Director of Governmental Affairs at Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Board of County Commissioners. He is a graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law.

The Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Courthouse story will be told in four blog entries. Part 1 will focus on the concept. Part 2: the Tulsa, Oklahoma, story. Part 3: the Houston, Texas project. Part 4: District of Columbia Superior Court Multi-Door.

Overview: The Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Courthouse Story (by Larry Ray)

In the early 1980’s the ABA (American Bar Association) Dispute Resolution Initiative* decided that they wanted to be actively involved in a futuristic dispute resolution project. Under the leadership of Chair Ronald L. Olson, Vice Chair Harvard Law professor Frank E. A. Sander, and Executive Director Larry Ray, they rediscovered Sander’s visionary idea of the multi-door courthouse which had been presented at the Pound 1976 Conference.**

In 1976, professor Frank E.A. Sander presented the vision of a multi-door courthouse. Each door would represent a dispute resolution process ranging from mediation to arbitration. Each dispute presented to the courts would be analyzed in an attempt to match the complaint with the most appropriate dispute resolution process. This matching might be called the taxonomy of dispute resolution.

The Tulsa Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Story

In the early 1980’s, there were no mediation programs in Oklahoma until the City of Tulsa, through the Municipal Court, received a $25,000 grant from the DOJ (United States Department of Justice) to pilot a mediation program call “Project Early Settlement." With the support of then-mayor Jim Inhofe (now a U.S. Senator), Project Early Settlement represented the political philosophy of bringing the public and private sectors together to provide a community based service.

Under the direction of the Court Administrator, the program was designed to have mediation training provided by the ABA’s Special Committee on Dispute Resolution (Larry Ray) and the Oklahoma State University Psychology Department (Dr. Bob Helm).

Project Early Settlement

In just the first year, dozens of citizens were trained to be mediators and the Tulsa County Bar Association became a big supporter. With the assistance of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and a professional public relations firm, Project Early Settlement took off with great success.

As a result of this success, the ABA Special Committee selected Tulsa to be one of the three pilot sites for development of a concept known as the Multi-Door Courthouse. The design of this courthouse of the future began with the acknowledgement that communities often have alternative dispute resolution process embedded in the community but frequently are not know about by citizens in a dispute. Therefore, what was needed was a process to receive complaints, diagnose the nature of the complaint, and then make an appropriate referral to the dispute resolution process already available.

Multi-Door Courthouse Intake Centers

With public and private funding for Phase 1 of the Multi Door Courthouse Project, Tulsa created 5 of these intakes sites called Citizen Complaint Centers. Each site was selected based upon research which showed that these were the places citizens were currently contacting for help and referral. With specially-trained intake specialists, citizen complaints were now being referred to dispute resolution programs, like Project Early Settlement, instead of sending them to court.

The research following Phase 1 showed that often times the “doors of dispute resolution” already exist outside of the actual courthouse and in the community. The courthouse is one of the “doors,” but most of the alternative methods lie outside of the courthouse. In the end, it seems to matter less where the “doors” are and instead that “doors” exist before one ever need to walk into the courthouse.

During the experiment, $100,000 was raised locally and $500,000 nationally by the ABA.

Today, there is now a $7 fee added to all filed civil cases to support dispute resolution, plus $5 is collected from the parties to the mediation hearing.


In that regard, for those who start their resolution process in both state and federal courts currently refer cases to mediation on a regular basis.

*The ABA created the Washington, D.C. based Special Committee on Resolution of Minor Disputes in 1979 which then evolved into the Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution and eventually into the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.

**The Pound Conference is short for the name of the conference: The Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, 1976. This conference was inspired by US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. Judge Griffin Bell who then became US Attorney General attended this conference. This was a commemoration of the 1906 conference by essentially the same name.

In 1906 Roscoe Pound who later became the Dean of Harvard Law School gave a remarkable major address outlining the dissatisfaction with the US justice system.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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