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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

In Foreclosure Mediation, Make It Easy to Participate

Jennifer Shack, June 25th, 2015

When it comes to foreclosure mediation, how a program is designed has a large impact on eligible homeowners. That was the broad finding of the evaluation of six foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois I just completed. The evaluation assessed the first year of the programs funded by the Illinois Attorney General, using data from an online case management and program monitoring system that allowed all but one of the programs to collect the same data using uniform definitions for each data point. The six programs are located throughout the state:

  • The 6th Judicial Circuit (Champaign County only), serving a university town and a largely rural county in Central Illinois
  • The 16th Judicial Circuit (Kane County), serving a large suburban Chicago community
  • The 17th Judicial Circuit (Winnebago and Boone counties), serving Rockford, Illinois’ third largest city, in north-central Illinois
  • The 19th Judicial Circuit (Lake County), serving a large suburban Chicago community
  • The 20th Judicial Circuit (St. Clair County only), serving a suburban St. Louis community
  • The 21st Judicial Circuit (Kankakee County only), serving a semi-suburban community south of Chicago

Each of the programs is designed differently, from how homeowners enter the program to what services they receive when they do. Their differences, combined with the collection of the same data for each program, provided insight on the effect of program design on participation, home retention and homeowner experience.  The most interesting findings from these different models include the following:

Higher participation leads to higher impact

In the 21st Circuit, 68% of homeowners participate in the program, and 14% of all homeowners facing foreclosure in the program county were able to save their homes. The other programs have participation rates of 7% to 25% and between 2% and 6% of all eligible homeowners keep their homes. The 21st Circuit’s high rate of home retention for all eligible homeowners facing foreclosure relative to the other programs is due to its very high participation rate and not to proportionately better outcomes for homeowners who participate in the program. If only participating homeowners are considered, the 21st Circuit has the lowest percentage who keep their homes.

High barriers discourage participation

Programs whose required steps for participation are difficult for homeowners have the lowest participation rates. Those with the easiest steps have the highest participation rates.

One-on-one orientation and assistance with entry encourage participation

Programs that orient the homeowners to the program at their first point of contact have higher rates of homeowners who complete the entry process. In the 16th Circuit, almost 90% of homeowners who contact the program coordinator for an initial conference enter the program. In the 17th Circuit, homeowners receive assistance completing their application for the program, leading to a higher rate of participation than in the 20th Circuit, where many homeowners do not have contact with the program until after they complete the steps to enter.

Homeowners who receive services other than mediation are more likely to retain their homes

In the 20th Circuit, those homeowners who received assistance from legal services were more likely to retain their homes than those who did not. While not statistically significant, this was true as well for homeowners who received housing counseling in that program. In addition, in the 17th and 19th Circuits, where all homeowners receive assistance from housing counseling, the level of understanding they gained and their satisfaction with the service were extremely high.

Homeowners benefit from a second opportunity to participate

In the 20th Circuit, more than half of participating homeowners are referred to mediation by the judge at the default judgment hearing.  They also are at least as likely to obtain a loan modification as those who enter the program after receiving their notification of mediation. This means that homeowners who could get a loan modification are selecting themselves out of the mediation programs and should be given another opportunity to participate.

To explore the data further, read the Executive Summary or the full evaluation.

Boston Police Department Creating Mediation Program for Complaints Against Police

Mary Novak, May 14th, 2015

The Boston Police Department is in the last stages of creating a program to address citizen complaints against police officers. The program would attempt to resolve disputes through mediation. Organizers hope to improve police/citizen relations, and to help clear some of the backlog of citizen complaints in Boston that may take 400 days or more to resolve.

The program is anticipated to involve the police department, three police unions and the Harvard Mediation Program at Harvard Law School. At this time, the unions still need to approve the program policy. Mediators would include Harvard Law School students and local residents trained in dispute resolution. They would handle moderate disputes from the Boston PD Internal Affairs department, such as “rudeness, unprofessional conduct and abusive language.”

Mediations would take place on neutral territory away from the police department. Most cases would conclude in a day, and the Harvard Mediation Program would supply mediators at no charge. Internal Affairs would continue to manage more serious complaints.

Police departments in several other major cities including Washington DC, New York City, Denver and San Francisco already have similar third-party mediation programs.

Bringing Court ADR Programs into the Courtroom

Kimberly Ackmann, May 8th, 2015

As the RSI foreclosure mediation team continues to incubate foreclosure mediation in Illinois, we have explored a variety of ways to reach out and connect with homeowners who could benefit from our programs’ services. One approach has been to establish our programs’ presence at the courthouses where homeowners are attempting to navigate the foreclosure process. Going to court can be an overwhelming or intimidating prospect for homeowners facing foreclosure. Providing information about available resources like the foreclosure mediation programs can be a great opportunity to connect with homeowners.

As the program coordinator for Illinois’ 17th Circuit’s Foreclosure Mediation Program, I began to explore whether increasing the program’s presence in the courtroom could increase our impact on the community. With this goal in mind, I recently started meeting potential parties at the Winnebago County Courthouse in Rockford. I go over to the courthouse during the foreclosure court call so that I can work directly with homeowners interested in participating in foreclosure mediation. Because I am waiting right outside the courtroom, the presiding judge can refer homeowners into the mediation program and send them directly to me for more information. I am also available to answer more general questions that homeowners or attorneys may have about the program and other area resources. In deciding to increase the presence of the foreclosure mediation program at the courthouse, I looked to other models around the state for ideas about how to proceed. Since instituting my own procedure, I’ve learned more about what can make these efforts most effective. For other programs looking to expand their court presence, here’s what I’ve learned. Read the rest of this entry »

RSI Turns 20!

Susan M. Yates, April 22nd, 2015

Can you believe RSI is twenty years old today? Back in 1995, no one could have predicted that what started as an idea – collect and disseminate reliable information about court ADR in Illinois – would become a nationally-recognized non-profit providing a full array of services in support of quality court ADR.

Indeed, RSI’s life as an independent non-profit is much shorter – not quite two years. We started life as part of Chicago’s Center for Conflict Resolution and spun off in July of 2013. These past two years have seen a dramatic expansion of RSI’s services. In addition to the court dispute system design, program monitoring and evaluation, and online resource center at CourtADR.org that have long been staples of RSI’s work, we are now administering court mediation programs and training mediators.

The motivations that undergirded the founding of RSI continue to steer our work. Chief among those ideas: sharing reliable information about court ADR among court ADR programs can elevate the quality and effectiveness of court ADR services. We are living out that idea with comprehensive monitoring of foreclosure mediation programs administered by RSI and by our program partners. By collecting reliable and accurate data, RSI is able to provide program evaluation that is improving the quality of foreclosure mediation throughout the state.

Want a way to celebrate? Go to RSI’s Razoo site and make a donation! We plan to be around for a lot of double decades to come, so how about some multiple of $20?

Domestic Violence Finding Overrides Agreement to Mediate, NJ Court Says

Mary Novak, April 15th, 2015

A case in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court stands as a reminder of the complexities of family mediation when domestic violence is involved. Indeed, the court found that a finding of domestic violence can trump a requirement to mediate. The parties, O.P. and L.G-P. (names kept confidential by the court) were a divorced couple with one child. In their property settlement agreement they had agreed to continue communicating about their child, and to use mediation in case of disagreement. However, after the divorce judgment a final restraining order (FRO) was entered against the former husband O.P. under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. After the FRO, support was ordered to be paid through the Probation Division.

L.G-P., the former wife, took O.P. to chancery court for several payments she said O.P. had not made. Some of the missed payments hinged on communications that L.G-P. had not had with O.P. She protested that the restraining order meant that O.P. was not to communicate with her. The court responded by encouraging her to change the FRO so that the two parties could email about these matters. L.G-P. said she did not want to do this because O.P. would send her derogatory and threatening emails.

L.G-P. also asked the court to release her from the mediation requirement, saying that past mediations had not led to her receiving any of the requested payments from O.P. When L.G-P. claimed that one matter had not yet been resolved during two years of mediation sessions, the trial court ordered her to go to a mediator and resolve the rest of their issues.

The appeals court reversed this order. The court declared that the provisions of a property settlement agreement that required mediation and communication should not be enforced after a final restraining order prohibiting contact was entered. The court stated that “[a]lthough returning to court may be inconvenient and costly, alternate dispute resolution methods are not safe when an FRO has been entered” because perpetrators of domestic violence tend to control and dominate their partners. Therefore, the court found, mediation could not be safe even if the environment were secure, or if shuttle mediation were used or if the parties had representation. Interestingly, New Jersey statutes already prohibit mediation in cases determining whether domestic violence has occurred or determining custody or parenting time. Here, the court ordered that mediation should not be used even when an existing agreement called for it, after the court issued a final finding of domestic violence through an FRO.