Being involved in a legal action is a scary and overwhelming experience for most individuals, and very few who come through the doors of our judicial centers are happy to be here. Legal actions are confusing, time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes downright painful.
Fortunately, there are ways for individuals to address some of their legal matters so that they can influence or ultimately decide the outcome. Many of our court programs offer litigants alternative options to work through their legal woes in their own unique ways. The 12th Judicial Circuit Mediation Department is one of those programs, and it has been offering mediation services to citizens throughout Manatee, Sarasota, and DeSoto counties since the late 1980s.
Currently, the 12th Circuit Mediation Program consists of six employees and many dedicated mediators that volunteer their time and expertise to our County Mediation Program. All employees and volunteers are certified by the Supreme Court of Florida. These professionals provide a range of administrative and mediation services to the Small Claims, County, Family, Dependency, and Juvenile Delinquency courts. Additionally, through the Citizen Dispute Settlement Program, the department provides services to citizens who wish to voluntarily mediate a dispute prior to filing a court action. Our staff and volunteers are passionate about helping individuals move away from their intransigent positons, by examining the problem one layer at a time, and encouraging them to focus on their individual interests in order to reach an acceptable resolution. Last fiscal year to date, staff and volunteers mediated 2,650 cases, despite COVID-19’s unwelcomed impact on the judicial system. Fortunately, the Mediation Department quickly adapted to the remote and virtual platform, keeping it “business as usual” to the best of our ability. Staff and volunteers have taken to Zoom and mediated approximately 700 cases virtually. Although this sudden pandemic has been exhausting, frightening and life changing, the Mediation Department has embraced the challenge to learn new ways to adjust, regroup, support one another, and continue to provide a high level of professional service to the courts, the legal community, and litigants.
Mediation is an informal process, where individuals involved in a dispute meet with a neutral, impartial facilitator in an attempt to resolve disagreements by themselves and come to a resolution, instead of having the dispute decided by a judge. The mediator helps the parties identify the issues, and through facilitated discussion, explores options and alternatives to solve them. Mediation is much more casual than litigation and less intimidating to parties, therefore more conducive to negotiation, collaboration, and ultimately settlement. Additionally, communications during the mediation process, other than a signed agreement, are confidential to the extent provided by law and are generally not admissible in court. The litigants submit their signed agreement to the Court for review and approval. It is well established that people are more likely to abide by an agreement that they voluntarily entered into when their interests were considered in arriving at that agreement. That is why mediation is an effective and efficient solution to resolving legal disputes.
Find more information on the services offered by our Mediation Department, including pre-filing and post-filing mediation, at jud12.flcourts.org/programs.
Read the Florida Supreme Court Proclamation naming October 11-17 as Mediation Week.