EL RENO – Sometimes, the best things in life really are free.
Mediation, provided through the Early Settlement program at no cost, saves more than money and court time, proponents say.
Most of the cases settled by mediation through the Early Settlement program involve family disputes like divorce or small claims between people and their landlords or creditors – things that directly affect people’s lives.
The Early Settlement Mediation – West Program is located in the Canadian County Courthouse and sponsored by Redlands Community College.
It serves Canadian and Grady counties. Early Settlement Mediation is a grant-funded program of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, Administrative Office of the Courts.
The Canadian County judges hosted a retirement luncheon to show their appreciation of the work director Brenda Detamore has done in building a successful mediation program in Canadian County.
Stacy Horner, the new director of Early Settlement – West Program said the term “small claims” is a misnomer – the items they mediate are not small to the people involved, and neither are the costs, if they go to court.
Many clients are working-class folks just struggling to pay bills.
“What we do as mediators is empower disputing parties to communicate with each other, which leads to agreements,” Horner said.
Joe Mogg, office coordinator for the Early Settlement – West Program, started with the program as a volunteer and now works for the program.
Mogg believes he’s helping people by keeping them out of the courtroom.
“Helping people is rewarding,” Mogg said. “People are talking to each other and coming to agreements, which helps them save legal expenses and also helps cases get resolved more quickly and helps alleviate crowded dockets.”
FUNDED BY THE COURTS
Phil Johnson, state director for Alternative Dispute Resolution sponsored by the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the program is funded by the courts and works with courts and communities in all 77 counties to settle conflicts.
The Early Settlement – West Program serving Canadian and Grady counties is especially successful, he said.
“It is one of the model programs in the state,” Johnson said. “The West program has grown from 50 cases 10 years ago to over 300 cases being referred last year.”
In a state where three out of every five marriages ends in divorce, Oklahoma is ranked either two or three for divorces in the United States.
“Rather than having a full trial in open court, the parties and their attorneys would meet privately in a confidential setting with the mediator to work out issues such as property division, child-related matters or any other things connected with the dissolution of a marriage,” Johnson said.
On average, seven out of 10 conflicts that go to mediation are resolved in mediation.
“So, we are taking seven out of 10 cases off the judge’s docket for trials,” Johnson said. “Mediation fosters an opportunity for people who are communicating to develop a means to be able to communicate, especially with kids involved.
“Like it or not, divorces are a fact of life in our culture now,” he added. “One of our goals through the program is to bolster relationships where we can. If there are children involved, they have to deal with each other in the future. If we can help mend those relationships, we do.”
For more information on the Early Settlement Program, go to adrs.oscn.net online or contact the Early Settlement – West Program office in the Canadian County Courthouse (405) 295-6180.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer mediator for the program should email the program office firstname.lastname@example.org.