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The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Connecticut Launches Online Dispute Resolution Program

Nicole Wilmet, January 29th, 2019

This month, Connecticut launched an online dispute resolution pilot program to resolve contract collection cases in the Hartford and New Haven Judicial Districts. This article reports that participation in the program is voluntary and that either party may opt-out of participating within 15 days of referral to the program. In both the notices to plaintiffs and defendants, the court notes that by participating in the program, both parties agree to give up their right to: a jury trial, file an appeal from the court’s decision, and to object to evidence presented by the either party.  

Plaintiffs wishing to participate in the ODR program must include an Online Dispute Resolution Answer Form and an Online Dispute Resolution Notice to Defendant with their complaint. Should both parties agree to participate in the program, the court will then give each side deadlines to exchange evidence and file evidence with the court. The court notes that examples of evidence in these cases include receipts, repair orders, warranties, cancelled checks, etc. Next, parties will be scheduled for a mediation session with a court mediator by video, telephone conference or in person. In the event that the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court decides the case based on the papers that both parties have filed.  

Additional information about Connecticut’s new ODR program may be found on the court’s site or by emailing ODR@jud.ct.gov 

40 Years of Victim-Offender Mediation Research: Benefits to Victims, Offenders, Courts and Community

Jennifer Shack, January 28th, 2019

Forty years of research into victim-offender mediation (“VOM”) have found that the process provides a number of benefits to victims, offenders, courts and the community, according to Toran Hansen and Mark Umbreit. Their article, “State of knowledge: Four decades of victim-offender mediation research and practice: The evidence” (Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Fall 2018), discusses the research conducted since the first victim-offender mediation program was established in 1974 and points to research that now needs to be done.

Studies cited by Hansen and Umbreit found that victims who participate in VOM as compared to those who went through the traditional litigation process received more restitution, had less fear of re-victimization and were less likely to remain upset after the process. Other research found that participation in VOM led victims to feel empowered and to have a more humanized view of the offender.

A high percentage of victims were satisfied with their experience with VOM and the outcome. A few studies also looked at what led victims to like or dislike VOM. In one study, satisfaction was linked to three variables: whether the victim felt good about the mediator, whether the victim saw the restitution agreement as fair, and whether the victim had a strong desire pre-mediation to meet with the offender.

Another study found that victims were disappointed with their experience if they received an insincere apology from the offender, felt pressure to accept an apology or agreement, had their emotions stifled by the mediator, felt rushed into an agreement by the process or were not adequately prepared for the process. Hansen and Umbreit noted that these could be ameliorated by proper in-person preparation of the victim and offender, a non-directive mediation style, taking time to discuss difficult topics and process emotions and being sensitive to how victims experience the mediation so that they don’t feel revictimized by the process.

Offenders were also found to receive benefits from the VOM process. These included being more empathetic toward victims of their crimes, being held directly accountable to victims , being able to deal with their feelings and seeing victims change their feelings toward them, feeling empowered, and avoiding jail or court. Additionally, according to some studies, offenders found VOM to be a more satisfying and fairer than the traditional process.

However, not all the findings were positive. Offenders didn’t always know the process was voluntary and didn’t always understand the mediation process. Some felt pressured to approve an agreement they didn’t agree with and they sometimes felt that victims dominated the conversation. Again, the authors provided ways to address these issues. The mediators should pay attention to power dynamics and speech patterns during mediation. They should ensure that the needs of both the victim and offender are discussed in mediation, and make sure that all participants are aware that final agreements are made by consensus.

Other benefits accrue to the courts and community. Some studies found that VOM led to a higher rate of agreement completion than the traditional process. Many studies, but not all, found that VOM led to a lower recidivism rate than the traditional process. A few studies also found VOM to be cost-effective. Short-term, VOM lowers costs by being less expensive than the traditional court process. Long-term, lowered recidivism and lower incarceration rates lead to cost savings. One study found as well that mature programs were more cost-effective than those that were just started up, and another found that those involving community mediation centers were more cost-effective.

Hansen and Umbreit end by calling for a new generation of research. Older research needs to be replicated and new research is needed to better understand the effects of VOM by race/ethnicity and age, as well as the circumstances under which it works best.

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.

My Favorite Resource Featuring Peter Salem

Nicole Wilmet, December 26th, 2018

Our series, My Favorite Resource, features interviews with our court ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resource. This month, Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet spoke with Peter Salem, Executive Director of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts to learn about his favorite resource.

NW: What is your favorite ADR Resource?

PS: My favorite ADR resources are my phone and computer, because they contain the contacts for the network that I have developed over the last 30+ years. There are a lot of great blogs, websites, journals, and other print and electronic resources out there, but knowing who to ask often helps me uncover valuable nuggets that I would not have otherwise known about.

NW: How did you develop your network and what recommendations do you have for anyone looking to develop their own network? 

PS: My father preceded me in the field and introduced me to many of his colleagues, so I had a head start. But I also learned from him and expanded my circle. I attended conferences, asked questions, used the telephone instead of email (full disclosure: email did not exist when I started), developed project ideas, and asked for advice and help. I volunteered for everything; newsletters, committees, boards, and conference planning. After a while, I started teaching and training. That’s a lot of extra work on top of a full-time job, and a lot of the money came out of my pocket, but it gave me the opportunity to invite others to teach, write, or work on projects, and they typically said yes. Because I was often part of the planning group, I was invited to the small dinners, etc., when the rock star ADR people came to Wisconsin. I would later see them at national conferences and we would already have a connection, and everything flowed from there. I didn’t plan this, of course. I just took on interesting projects with people I liked. So I guess my recommendation for others looking to establish a network is get involved and do interesting things with interesting people. Start small and locally, and do an amazing job. People notice great work, mediocre work and especially work that is not completed.

NW: In what ways have you found that your network has been better able to serve your needs than a traditional print resource?

PS: I use my network to help solve problems and answer questions, and for me that is an iterative process. Websites and journal articles provide valuable information, but they are just a starting point, not something to be taken at face value. We are in a field that advises people to dig beneath the surface and look at underlying issues. Why wouldn’t I follow that advice when working on my own stuff?

NW: Can you share an example of when you turned to your network for support?

PS: As the executive director of a 5,300-member organization, I frequently get requests for information or referrals that I can’t answer myself. But I have access to a lot of experts and can easily put a handful of names in an email to people with the requisite expertise. People appreciate any answer and are even more excited to get a response from a leading ADR author, researcher or practitioner. Similarly, there are some great listservs out there that serve the same function, albeit in a less targeted fashion. For example, the Bestinterests-talk list is an independent list run by an AFCC member for people in family law/dispute resolution. There is an amazing exchange of information and ideas.

NW: What do you value most about the input you receive from your network? 

PS: The input from my network is always thoughtful, honest, and it comes from experienced professionals with a very high level of expertise. That is invaluable. But what I value even more is that my network exemplifies the incredible generosity of dispute resolution professionals. Throughout my career, leaders in the field have been willing to take the time and effort to help me learn and grow. And to paraphrase my good friend Susan Yates (a long-time member of my network), now that I am more senior in the field, I hope that I am following in their footsteps.

If you have a favorite resource you would like to share, please reach out to Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, Nicole Wilmet at nwilmet@aboutrsi.org!

A Look Back on 2018

Nicole Wilmet, December 21st, 2018

What a wonderful year 2018 has been! From court program evaluations and trainings to celebrating Resolution Systems Institute Day, we have had an exciting year and continued to great make strides in serving communities with court alternative dispute resolution! As RSI’s Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, I have had the pleasure to share each exciting moment with you this year. To culminate 2018, I am looking back on all of RSI’s monumental moments this year.

This was a hallmark year for AboutRSI.org with several new resources added to our Resource Center. March brought the launch of Mediation Efficacy Studies, the most comprehensive collection of resources on the subject of court alternative dispute resolution effectiveness. This summer, Director of Research Jennifer Shack published her evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Child Protection Mediation Program, and we shared our Model Tools for Mediator Peer Review.

This fall, we released two new chapters to our Guide to Program Success, a step-by step guide from Executive Director Susan Yates and Jennifer Shack that discusses how to design, manage and evaluate a successful court ADR program. We also collaborated with the National Association for Community Mediation to share a Community Mediation Special Topic that explains the basics of community mediation, explores the relationship between courts and community mediation centers, delves into the important activities of data tracking and evaluation and compiles exemplary studies on the effectiveness of community mediation.

Finally, we rounded out our year of new resources with Jennifer Shack’s program evaluation of the eight foreclosure mediation programs funded by the Illinois Attorney General and developed a digital summary of the evaluation.

In 2018, we also launched our series My Favorite Resource that collects resources from our court ADR friends across the country. I would like to thank Heather Kulp, Debora Denny, Doug Van Epps, Missy Greathouse, Rebecca Price, Raeshann Canady, Kevin Malone, Catherine Geyer, Annalise Buth, Renee Salmon, and Peter Salem for participating in our inaugural year. I have truly enjoyed learning about each of your favorite ADR resources and network groups and I look forward to connecting with more friends this year!

This year was also a milestone year for our foreclosure mediation programs here in Illinois as our five-year grant from the Illinois Attorney General ended. Under the grant, RSI developed and administered foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois’ Lake, Kane, Winnebago, and Boone counties; trained mediators for all Attorney General-funded foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state; developed an online case management and monitoring system for those programs; and conducted two statewide evaluations of the programs. We are happy to report that all three of RSI’s foreclosure mediation programs will continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts. RSI’s Kevin Malone and Olga Kordonskaya will continue to administer our programs in Kane County and Lake County, respectively, and moving forward, the court will administer the foreclosure mediation program in Winnebago & Boone counties. We consider the continuation of the programs as evidence of their success given that the courts value these programs enough to continue to provide funding for them. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to the courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations.

Last, but certainly not least, we also celebrated several important events this year. In April, we welcomed Grace Barter as our new Administrative Assistant. On July 11, 2018, Rockford, Illinois Mayor Thomas McNamara declared that day as Resolution Systems Institute Day in honor of RSI’s work on foreclosure mediation in the Rockford community. That same month, we celebrated Kent Lawrence, founder and steadfast supporter of RSI, for receiving the Decalogue Society of Lawyer’s Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award. The Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award is presented to individuals whose excellence and dedication demonstrate commitment to justice by serving the community.

In September, we celebrated our one-year anniversary of the new AboutRSI.org, and Eric Slepak-Cherney was named RSI’s new Associate Director. In November, Jennifer Shack was appointed to the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Research Advisory Committee and this month, Olga Kordonskaya and Kevin Malone celebrated their five-year anniversary with RSI.

As December comes to a close, I know that each of us here at RSI is thankful for a wonderful 2018. We look forward to all that awaits in 2019!