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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 15, 200912:00 PM EST

Mediation offers business opportunity for attorneys

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by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

The first class included 19 members, but its ranks have grown to over 500.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Boyd and Florida State College of Law Dean Talbot D’Alemberte helped establish the Florida Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) in 1986 and it provided a statewide center for education, training and research in alternative dispute resolution. One of the functions of the DRC is the certification of mediators and mediation training programs. The first applicants certified to practice in the Fourth Judicial Circuit earned certification in 1991 and that group has grown from about 20 to over 500 people practicing in four different fields: county, circuit, family and dependency.

“(Mediation) has been real effective over the last couple years. It helps settle a lot of cases,” said Mattox Hair, former Circuit Court judge and State Legislator who is now a mediator. “It keeps them out of court and prevents people from having to spend a lot of money preparing for trials.”

Hair was certified in 1993 and has noticed he isn’t in such small company any more.

“There are two to three times as many people doing it now as to when I started,” said Hair. “It was primarily family court when I started out, but now it’s used for everything. A lot of people have been getting into it the last couple of years. It’s a way to supplement the income for the law practice.”

The number of mediators receiving certification each year began climbing in 2002 and the DRC has certified an average of 50 each year since that time.

“It’s not surprising,” said Blane McCarthy, an attorney since 1995 and mediator since 2000. “People are realizing that there is plenty of work because of the court’s use of mediation.”

Florida Rules of Civil Procedure state “...the presiding judge may enter an order referring all or any part of a contested civil matter to mediation or arbitration.”

Judges in the Fourth Judicial Circuit are using this rule to help reduce the congestion on the court schedule by requiring mediation in most cases before trial, said McCarthy.

“Judges are seeing it as an effective way to manage their dockets,” said McCarthy. “Their schedules are just so huge, it just makes sense.”

One contributing factor to the court schedule recently has been an increase in foreclosure hearings, but one judge doesn’t see how mediators can help in this area.

“I haven’t required mediation in a foreclosure case or had someone request it,” said Circuit Court Judge Fred Tygart. “Mediation in mortgage foreclosure isn’t like a personal injury mediation. In a mortgage foreclosure case, the mortgage company has all the trump cards. Most are very perfunctory. Homeowners come to a mediation with very little bargaining position.”

The market is the only bargaining chip most homeowners have if mediation is available, explained Tygart.

“The only reason they have any bargaining position now is because of the extraordinary number of foreclosures,” said Tygart. “It makes more sense to make reductions on an interest rate and allow a homeowner to make payments rather than have that property sit vacant.”

If people are able to schedule mediation, a neutral site can be requested to host the procedure. This need has also created businesses in Jacksonville and throughout Florida. Mediation centers are starting to come in different sizes and technological styles. Some offer conference space and others can also provide court reporter and support staff services for attorneys and mediators who may not have facilities to host.

One of the latest additions in the mediation field in Jacksonville is the Jax Mediation Center on University Boulevard.

“It’s a concept that has been developed in larger cities like Miami and Atlanta,” said Diane Dawood, mediation coordinator who was a court reporter for 20 years before working at the center. “The courts recommend and steer people toward mediation before they go into the courtroom and we are able to provide mediators with experience in 20 different areas of practice and the technology and support staff to meet the needs of our clients.”

Stats

• 7,910 mediators in Florida certified by Florida Supreme Court

• 504 mediators certified for Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)

• 205 mediators in the Fourth Judicial Circuit are attorneys

There are four fields for mediators:

(in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, some mediators are certified in multiple fields.)

• County — 72 female, 76 male

• Circuit — 20 female, 95 male

• Family — 42 female, 44 male

• Dependency — 6 female, 5 male

New Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators by year in Fourth Judicial Circuit

2008 — 18

2007 — 66

2006 — 70

2005 — 50

2004 — 51

2003 — 34

2002 — 48

2001 — 29

2000 — 21

1999 — 12

1998 — 15

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