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Foreclosure Mediation Programs Reflect and Refine

Shawn Davis, April 22nd, 2014

Foreclosure mediation programs can now be found all over the country. Models vary widely, both in their rules and procedures and in terms of the populations they serve. Most programs were started as a response to the mortgage foreclosure crisis and some programs have been around for a number of years now. While it’s often argued that the worst of the housing crisis is behind us and that foreclosure mediation programs are no longer necessary, new studies are revealing that the need is there, that programs can be effective, and that there are lessons to be learned in terms of how programs can maximize results.

Maine is one state evaluating its foreclosure response and concluding that foreclosure mediation is having a positive impact. Maine’s Attorney General Janet T. Mills led a six-month study of the state’s foreclosure response to evaluate progress and suggest improvements. The study concluded that efforts to respond to the foreclosure crisis were having a positive effect, but recognized that many communities throughout Maine are still suffering and continue to need resources. Attorney General Mills also looked specifically at Maine’s Foreclosure Diversion Program, which provides foreclosure mediation services, and concluded that the program has been effective and should be strengthened. The result of these investigations were sent to the Judiciary Committee and resulted in bill L.D. 1389, which was signed into law earlier this April.  Maine’s foreclosure mediation program began in 2009, and the new law will strengthen the program by incorporating the National Mortgage Settlement standards and focusing on the importance of funding for housing counseling services, which are often so integral to a homeowner’s success in mediation. Improving training and tightening standards for foreclosure mediators, who serve the program as independent contractors to the Judicial Branch, will also be required.

In conjunction with Maine’s Foreclosure Diversion Program, the state also runs a “First Call” Pilot Project, in which certain areas of the state use a modified timeline for mediation. With the pilot program, the timeline is expedited, with homeowners attending an informational session and initial mediation all on one day. At the informational session, homeowners learn about the foreclosure process and the mediation program from a judge and housing counselors, before breaking off to meet with their lender, lender’s attorneys and a mediator. By contrast, the rest of the Foreclosure Diversion Program requires a six week time period between the informational session and the first mediation.

Maine’s efforts to try new models, as well as to study what’s working and what should be modified have me thinking about the future. With support from the Illinois Attorney General, RSI has been working on the design, implementation and management of three different foreclosure mediation programs in northern Illinois. Unlike in Maine, these programs are just getting underway. Lake County’s program has been accepting cases since December 2, 2013, Kane County launched January 2, 2014 and Winnebago County is scheduled to start offering services for foreclosure cases filed on or after June 1, 2014. Nevertheless, we are starting to gather exciting data about the impact the programs are having and we have been reflecting on outreach efforts and program procedures. The programs vary based on local needs and resources and have their own program rules. RSI will be closely monitoring and evaluating each program’s progress and comparing notes. As our programs grow and develop, we’ll be reflecting and fine-tuning, and sharing with you along the way.

More Evidence of the Effectiveness of Restorative Justice

Jennifer Shack, April 10th, 2014

For this month’s Court ADR Connection (RSI’s monthly e-newsletter), I wrote about a study of 10 restorative justice conferences that demonstrated significant benefits to the community by reducing re-offense and to victims by enhancing their emotional well-being. New research from New Zealand provides more evidence of the benefits of RJCs. The study was large, examining re-offense rates of 2,323 individuals aged 17 or over who participated in RJCs and 6,718 matched individuals who went through a police diversion or court process.  To be included in the study, the offenders had to plead guilty to a charge in district court. Those who participated in RJCs committed 23% fewer offenses over the next twelve months than the matched group. The proportion of those reoffending was 12% less for the RJC group. However, in the second and third years the difference in re-offense rates between the groups narrowed.

“Hot-Tubbing” and ADR?

Susan M. Yates, April 7th, 2014

Did you know there is an ADR process called “hot-tubbing?” This was news to me when I heard it mentioned last week at the Court ADR Symposium (which occurs every year on the day before the ABA Dispute Resolution Section Conference). As I understand it, the process is used sometimes in arbitration when there are conflicting expert opinions. Basically, the idea is that rather than simply hear expert testimony from each side sequentially, the arbitrator questions the experts concurrently. Hot-tubbing has been used in court settings in Australia, England and Wales, as well as in arbitration. Read the rest of this entry »

RSI to Present at 16th Annual ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Conference

Mary Novak, March 27th, 2014

Next week, RSI Executive Director Susan Yates will give two presentations during the ABA Section on Dispute Resolution Conference. During the Symposium on ADR in the Courts on Wednesday, Susan will join a panel discussing the current state of court ADR research. She will offer a first look at a new tool that is coming to our website, a new way to explore our bibliography of court ADR studies and examine program effectiveness across North America. On Thursday Susan will join a panel discussion on whether mediators should be licensed by the state, and what would be involved in implementing such a process. Mary Novak, RSI’s Resource Center Director, will also attend the conference. If you plan to be in Miami next week, we hope you’ll stop by our table in the Exhibit Hall and say hello.

Remembering Dick Salem

Susan M. Yates, March 24th, 2014

The field of Alternative Dispute Resolution lost one of our founders this weekend when Dick Salem died. Dick’s core values led him to work in dispute resolution before it was a field. While serving with the U.S. government’s Community Relations Service in the 1960s and 70s, he was mediator at Wounded Knee and when Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois. Later, he worked extensively in South Africa and then other African countries, most notably Rwanda.

Dick also worked in the Chicago area, which is where I met him back in the 80s. Wherever ADR was the topic, Dick was there. He served on the board of Neighborhood Justice of Chicago (now the Center for Conflict Resolution) when I was executive director and we served together on the board of the Chicago chapter of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (now the Association for Conflict Resolution.) Read the rest of this entry »