The man credited as a pioneer in private dispute resolution died in Newport Beach last week of complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.
H. Warren Knight, who served as a judge in Orange County Municipal Court from 1971 to 1973 and in Superior Court from 1973 to 1979, left the bench to establish one of the first alternative dispute resolution firms in the country.
“You could argue he created the entire field,” said Chris Poole, colleague and current chief executive and president of Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, now known as JAMS, which Knight founded in 1979.
“Warren was a pioneer,” said Justice John Trotter, who knew Knight for more than 50 years. “He was the first one to think of mediation as a viable tool to resolve disputes.”
“It’s created an amazing change in the culture of lawyers who, before Warren started to do this, never thought of mediation outside the courtroom,” Trotter said. “Now it’s common practice.”
Knight founded JAMS in Santa Ana, which later expanded to 25 locations stretching from San Francisco to London.
Among the accolades Knight received were the American Bar Assn.'s D’Alemberte-Raven Award in 2010, the American College of Civil Trial Mediators’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and the Assn. of Media & Entertainment Counsel’s Founders Award.
Knight’s colleagues described the former Laguna Beach resident as honest and kind while being “a mentor to everybody.”
“In a profession where arguing is the methodology, he got along by listening,” Trotter said.
“He’s known for speaking his mind,” Poole said. “He rarely held back. That meant that his input and his advice was authentic and heartfelt, and it also occasionally meant he could be prickly from time to time, but I think everybody appreciated it.”
Knight also volunteered for about a year and a half with Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy program, which provides free literacy lessons to adults through the Newport Beach Public Library.
“He was looking to do something where he could make a personal impact,” said Literacy Coordinator Cherall Weiss.
One of the women he mentored became inspired by Knight’s own devotion to volunteering, despite his challenge of using an oxygen tank, and chose to become active in her church, serve the disadvantaged and travel to India to work with children who have AIDS.
“She acknowledges Warren as an inspiration to go on and do these things,” Weiss said. “Warren inspired her so much to reach for her goals.”
Another of Knight’s mentees was a woman who struggled with her teenage daughter, Weiss said. Knight wanted to help and checked out a book for the two to read together about mothers and daughters.
“I mean she came in tears because he helped her,” Weiss said. “Through these efforts, he helped her better recognize how she could work with her daughter.”
A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Dec. 8 at the Calvary Chapel East Anaheim 5605 E. La Palma Ave. in Anaheim. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Knight’s honor to the JAMS Foundation or Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy.