Guns and Mediation: Second Shooting of 2013

On December 4, 2013, the estranged wife of a doctor shot him several times on the sidewalk outside of a law office in Manchester, Tennessee, after a heated divorce mediation session. Dr. Harry Bartee, 47, is recovering at the hospital and Brenda Bartee, 47, is in custody with a large bail. Apparently Ms. Bartee walked out of the mediation and got her gun. When Dr. Bartee left, she shot him in the back 6-7 times. Reports indicate that she also shot him twice in Sept. 2012, when they were in Mississippi. She had a permit to carry a handgun. See Manchester Times: http://www.manchestertimes.com/?p=14886 and Times Free Press: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2013/dec/07/estranged-wife-had-fired-shots-before/

This is the second shooting immediately after a mediation in 2013, as far as I know. As I reported on this blog and in a newsletter article: On January 30, 2013, after a business mediation at the office of a lawyer-mediator, Arthur Harmon shot and killed Steve Singer, the CEO of a company he did some work for, and Mark Hummels, the CEO’s lawyer. Harmon, age 70, killed himself several days later. He reportedly had a reputation as “angry, a bully, a nut job.” He had a history of filing at least 5 civil lawsuits since 1994. He swore at and made threats to Mr. Hummels over a period of time. (Red Flags for Lawyers and All Professionals)

Lessons We Need to Learn:

Pay Attention to Red Flags:   Both of these shooters had known histories of extreme behavior. Mediators, lawyers and all professionals need to pay attention to red flags that pop up during a case – especially legal cases where a lot can be known about the level of conflict. As I said in my article cited above, red flags include: (1) Preoccupation with blaming others; (2) Unmanaged intense emotions (public rage, threats); (3) All-or-nothing thinking; (4) history of extreme behavior. Comments like: it’s all your fault; I’m really going to get you legally. Guns: engaging in target practice (Betty Broderick wasn’t shy about this weeks before she killed her lawyer-ex-husband Dan in 1994 in San Diego); and the prior shooting in the Bartee case last week.

Times of High Risk: When upsetting decisions are made is one of the greatest times of high risk. Many of the shootings in high conflict divorce and separation cases occur within two weeks of a court hearing, according to cases I have compiled (as yet unpublished). We now need to recognize that the same risk may be present in mediations, where the same decisions get made which may represent losses: of spouse, children, income, property, identity, etc.

We need better screening: While all of the above were known red flags, mediators need to be aware of the growing risks of violence. Nowadays, more cases are using mediation and family courts are especially trying to refer cases out to mediation and other out-of-court methods. Screening for domestic violence is becoming more and more important and the Academy of Professional Family Mediators will be providing another 2-day Advanced Training on Power Imbalance and screening in July 2014. See www.APFMnet.org for updates in 2014.

Need for office security: While Ms. Bartee when outside to get her gun, the Phoenix shooter appears to have brought his into the mediation, even though he used it outside.

Need for pre-mediation counseling or counseling: One of the benefits of New Ways for Families counseling is that each party can have 6 individual sessions with a mental health professional at the beginning of the case, who can help calm the person and also observe warning signs of danger – with the legal ability to report a danger to others.  New Ways for Families Pre-Mediation Coaching is 1-2 individual sessions with a counselor, lawyer or mediator, during which there is the opportunity for screening for domestic violence or other danger, as well as efforts to calm the person. (www.NewWays4Families.com)

High Conflict Divorce is a mental health issue that is becoming a public health issue. We need to make some big paradigm shifts to manage this safely.

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Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and therapist. He is the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speaking and training seminars to professionals for managing personality disorders and “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. High Conflict Institute also provides resources for anyone dealing with a high-conflict person, including books, Video Training On Demand and dozens of free articles. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.