Local courts are looking for volunteers to act as mediators

Judge David Smith presents Belle Westfall with her Basic Mediation Certification Certificate.

Volunteers are needed to act as mediators in order to speed up the resolution of disputes outside of courtrooms, as case filings continue to increase.

The Early Settlement Mediation Program volunteers are not expected to be experts in all aspects of the law but must have empathy and the ability to work with others.

Volunteers will receive 20 hours of intensive training, followed by an evaluation period. This will allow them to become certified mediators in small claims cases. Divorce and child custody cases can be taken up at higher levels.

On the Claremore campus of RSU, a free two-day basic mediation session will be held from 9:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 22-23. Volunteers must complete the 20-hour training, and they must commit to spending 10 hours per year in mediation for local courts.

Marcy Cox, Early Settlement Northeast director at Rogers State University said they have had great success working with former executives who are familiar in human resource situations and have more flexibility in their schedules. However, they also have active professionals within the program.

She said, “We are looking for people who can listen and who can explore creative solutions.”

Washington County District Court employs volunteer mediators to help parties in disputes on small claims dockets and domestic cases such as divorce and child custody. This program is free to the community and sponsored by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Cox stated that mediation is an effective tool to resolve disputes.

“We don’t make decisions for anyone. We empower them to make their own decisions. She said that mediation can be more creative than what the judge can do from the bench.

Cox stated that mediation will be more focused on landlord/tenant issues as the moratorium for evictions due to non-payment of rent has expired. Mediators can assist tenants and landlords in negotiating back-rent payments and moving out dates that are mutually beneficial.

Cox stated, “We are completely neutral third parties.” We help to define the issues and find solutions. Often, they file paperwork and never speak to one another. Everyone is allowed to speak and it ends in a mutually beneficial agreement.”

Judges love the mediation program. Judges love it because they can focus on the most important issues while mediators help neighbors to come to an agreement on disputes over fences.

David Smith, Special District Court Judge, preside over the Rogers County weekly small claims docket and has been involved with the program on many occasions.

“This program has been a great help to the court and made the community a safer place. He said that he was happy to see mediators at the small claims docket, and he looks forward to meeting the trainees.

Glenda Garrison, volunteer from Bartlesville said that the program benefits the community because it reduces caseloads and resolves cases faster.

Garrison stated that volunteers allow the service to be provided for free, which is a huge help to people who can’t afford a court case or an expensive attorney-mediator.

It can be very rewarding to serve as a mediator. Cox stated that mediators feel that they are helping the community, and that they enjoy building relationships with judges.

Washington County is served by the Early Settlement Mediation Program, along with five other counties in northeast Oklahoma.