By Sue Botos
In June 2007, the Rocky River Municipal Court set up a mediation program that would allow the two sides involved in litigation the opportunity to meet with a neutral third party for the exploration of options to going through a trial. At that time, the goal was to settle at least 66 percent of civil and certain criminal cases outside of the courtroom, and after five years and 1,000 assigned cases, the program has exceeded that goal by more than 20 percent.
According to information provided by the court, cases that are referred and have gone through mediation, which is termed an “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) process, have a settlement rate in excess of 88 percent. The program was assigned its 1,000th case on June 1.
“The beauty of the mediation program is that the litigants resolve the cases themselves. The parties determine the terms of their agreement. This gives the participants a more positive experience with the court system, allows for a more timely resolution of their case and benefits the community,” commented Judge Brian Hagan, administrative presiding judge of the Rocky River Municipal Court.
Mediation is often used, according to Hagan, in civil disputes, such as disagreements between neighbors, but has also been successful in some criminal cases like disorderly conduct and building code violations. Since its start, the program has expanded to accommodate the increase in the number of cases being referred. Mediations are scheduled six days a month and now cover not only small claims cases of $3,000 or less, but also include general division civil cases where the amount in dispute is up to $15,000.
The parties involved can represent themselves before mediation magistrate Tim Clemens, or they can have their lawyers present.
Judge Donna Congeni Fitzsimmons noted that the mediation program also makes for more efficient use of court time. She said that the hearings, held on Wednesdays and Fridays, “allow for a day in court without the extent of a trial.” This frees up time for more complicated and time-consuming cases.