Resources / Study / Innovation for Court ADR

Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Archive for the ‘Court Mediation Program’ Category

Victim Youth Conferencing Program in Nebraska Showing Promise

Jennifer Shack, July 22nd, 2019

A statewide victim youth conferencing (VYC) program in Nebraska has proven to be successful at promoting participant satisfaction, attaining reparations agreements and ensuring youth fulfillment of those agreements. The program was launched in March 2015 as a pilot in three jurisdictions covering four counties and was expanded statewide in January 2018. Services are provided by Nebraska Office of Dispute Resolution-approved mediation centers. Referrals to the program came at three stages: pre-court referrals from the County Attorneys’ offices after a school-based incident, court diversion referrals from the County Attorney and Courts pre-adjudication, and referrals from the court post-adjudication.

The evaluation of the VYC program looked at the program’s goals to determine whether they were being met, as well as other aspects of the program, including who was served by the program and how the process was working in each of the centers providing the services. In terms of outcomes, the program had the following goals: 95% of conferences will end with a reparations agreement, 95% of agreements will be fulfilled and 97% of participants will report being satisfied with the process. The program exceeded the first goal and came within a percentage point or two of attaining the other two goals. All conferences held ended with a reparations agreement. Youth completed 94.2% of those agreements and partially completed 5.8% of them. Ninety-five percent of participants were satisfied with the process.

In addition to being satisfied with the process, 89% of participating youth and 70% of participating victims believed that the VYC made the justice system more responsive to their needs. Further, 94% of victims agreed that it was helpful to talk directly with the person who was responsible for the harm, and 77% of victims said that meeting that person reduced any fear that he/she would commit another crime against them. The youth held similar opinions: 88% said it was helpful to talk directly with the victim and 94% said that after the meeting they had a better understanding of the full impact of the crime on others.

The program also had longer-term goals of reducing recidivism, “closing the gap in disproportionate minority contact with courts,” increasing safety in communities and sustaining capacity for VYC statewide. The program’s effect on recidivism proved hard to assess. The evaluator found that the 38 youth who participated in the initial pilot, 16% recidivated in the succeeding 12 months, compared to 24% of the 17 youth who did not. However, the data was insufficient and unreliable, so she did not determine that participation in the program caused the reduction in recidivism. The hope is that later evaluations can address this, as well as the other goals mentioned above.

New Mediator Self-Reflection Tool

Susan M. Yates, January 9th, 2019

The Supreme Court of Virginia has developed a wonderful new self-reflection form for mediators. While the Court developed this tool for their certified mediators as part of their re-certification process, it is a valuable tool for any mediator (just ignore the instructions about continuing mediator education credits). There is a lot of content, so if you are using this on your own you will probably want to pick and choose among the questions. This new tool coordinates with Virginia’s excellent Mediator Self-Reflection Treasury.

Even though mediators work very closely with people when we mediate, typically no one else in the room shares our mediator perspective. There are exceptions, such as co-mediation or when we are observed by new mediators, but mediation can be an isolated activity (made especially so by the limits of confidentiality). This isolation makes self-reflection particularly important.

I can imagine many uses for these tools beyond self-reflection. A group of mediators could pick a few of the questions to discuss over lunch. For co-mediators, the tools could aid their debriefing. The forms might help a new court or community mediation program get clear about what they expect from mediators. The tools will probably spark other ideas when you read them.

Many thanks to the good people of the Supreme Court of Virginia for taking the time to produce and share these tools. They are a real gift to the mediation community.

Utah Small Claims Court Launches New Online Dispute Resolution Pilot Program

Nicole Wilmet, December 3rd, 2018

In September, the Utah Supreme Court initiated an online dispute resolution (“ODR”) pilot program. The pilot program, which is housed at Utah’s West Valley City Justice Court, handles the court’s small claims cases. In its standing order announcing the program, the Utah Supreme Court says it believes that the new pilot program “will increase the participation rate of parties, assist the parties in resolving their disputes, and improve the quality and presentation of evidence at trial in those matters that cannot be resolved.”

Under the new program, plaintiffs must now either register for the court’s new ODR system within seven days of filing their claim or file a request for exemption from ODR. After being served with a claim, defendants will have fourteen days to either register for an ODR account or seek an exemption from participating in ODR. Parties will only be excused from participating in the ODR program for undue hardships. The court notes that undue hardships exist when parties are unable to access the online system without substantial difficulty or expense.

Parties utilizing the ODR system will work with a facilitator who will guide the parties through the ODR process and assist them in reaching a settlement. Facilitators will inform the parties of the process to be followed, the types of communications that parties may use, and establish timelines for the parties. Additionally, facilitators may request that the parties provide information and evidence about the merits of the case, their ability to pay, responses to the other party’s information, and their position on any proposed resolution of the plaintiff’s claim. Facilitators are also able to communicate privately with any party, at any time, for the purposes of facilitating a resolution.

Should the parties reach a settlement, they then may request their facilitator to prepare their online settlement agreement form, which will detail the terms of their agreement. Once completed, the court will enter the judgement. In the event that the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the facilitator will notify the court and the court will schedule a trial date for the parties. More information about the pilot program, including access to the court’s forms, may be found here.

Introducing the Community Mediation Special Topic

Nicole Wilmet, October 26th, 2018

We are pleased to introduce a new special topic on community mediation to AboutRSI.org! Written in collaboration with the National Association for Community Mediation, our latest special topic takes an in-depth look at community mediation.

Inside the special topic you will find everything you need to know about community mediation including the basics, the relationship between courts and community mediation centers, and how tracking and evaluating mediation can help community mediation centers. Additionally, our community mediation special topic offers a compilation of exemplary studies on the effectiveness of community mediation, other processes that centers use, and information that can help centers to better address issues surrounding the provision of services.

We hope you enjoy this new resource as much as we do!

End of One Era, Beginning of Another

Susan M. Yates, August 31st, 2018

August 31, 2018, will mark the end of an era at RSI. Our five-year foreclosure mediation grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General will come to an end.

This grant, which we received 15 years into our operation, was our opportunity to prove that when given sufficient resources, RSI could deliver the kind of quality court mediation program that we had been recommending to others all those years. I used terms like “practice what we preach,” “proof is in the pudding” and even, “put up or shut up!”

At that time, we promised to:

  • Work with courts and other stakeholders to design and operate three foreclosure mediation programs in three judicial circuits in northern Illinois
  • Develop and conduct training for mediators in our programs and those operated by our partner organizations farther downstate
  • Develop an online system to collect data about the programs enabling us to produce regular statistical reports and two comprehensive evaluations

I am happy to report that we delivered!

In the process, we confirmed some maxims about how to do quality court ADR and added a few corollaries.

  1. Study first

Before we start working with a court on their ADR program, we update our knowledge of the particular area in which we will be working. In this situation we researched what was happening across the country with foreclosure and how courts were using alternative approaches.

Corollary: Sometimes you have to build the plane while flying it. In the midst of a national foreclosure crisis, courts across the country were scrambling to keep up. While it was helpful to see what others were doing, we needed to figure out how to do foreclosure mediation in a way that worked in Illinois courts with their particular needs and resources.

  1. Work with stakeholders

We know that it is critical to bring together all the stakeholders while developing a court ADR system so that their various needs can be considered. In foreclosure mediation, the usual stakeholders – judges, court administrators, mediators and lawyers for both lenders and borrowers – were joined by a new addition: housing counselors, who were critical to the success of many of the programs.

Corollary: As important as it is to have all the voices heard, in the end, judges often have to make decisions about exactly how court ADR programs will work, and these decisions may not satisfy everyone. Fortunately, RSI doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” so we can offer unbiased, expert advice about pros and cons of various approaches.

  1. Value the people who do the work

Never underestimate the importance of visible, capable staff. These programs are being continued because of dedicated program coordinators, who kept the cases moving and kept the courts informed of program progress, and because of skilled mediators who worked with intelligence and compassion in the midst of foreclosure – which is a crisis for each homeowner, even once the nation’s crisis has abated.

Corollary: These programs are not easy to administer. Juggling spinning plates is an apt metaphor for the challenge of administering programs with sometimes complex court rules that apply to everyone from sophisticated lawyers to overwhelmed homeowners.

  1. Collect and use reliable data

Turning data into meaningful information means different things to different stakeholders at different times. In the foreclosure mediation programs, we produced everything from monthly statistical reports for judges about numbers of cases in their programs and how they were being resolved to a mega-evaluation of all the programs that compared strengths of the various approaches and made recommendations about how each might improve.

Corollary: In a situation like this one in which every program was different, finding ways to make “apples to apples” comparisons was critical. Doing that successfully allowed RSI to make recommendations for improvement from a place of knowledge, not opinion.

Success and a New Era

September 1st will mark the beginning of a new era, as all three of our foreclosure mediation programs continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts! We take this as the surest sign of success, that the courts value these programs enough to find a way to continue them when outside funding ends. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations. We are pleased to continue to provide services to homeowners and their lenders when foreclosure looms.