Judicial districts in Southwest Colorado are expanding mediation services that unite plaintiffs and defendants to help them resolve conflicts outside of court and avoid a lengthy judicial process.Angela Buchanan, Bill Corwin and Barbara Hughson, all of Durango, will help resolve civil, criminal and domestic cases in the 6th Judicial District, which includes San Juan, Archuleta and La Plata counties.
"I'm really excited to do it; I love mediating," Buchanan said.
Buchanan and Corwin were hired at the request of the courts. They will join the Colorado Judicial Branch's Office of Dispute Resolution. They are expected to mediate three to five cases per month, according to a news release from the Colorado Judicial Branch.
Hughson's mediation services already were being used by the 6th Judicial District courts.
La Plata County courts have relied on mediation for years, but the courts haven't maintained a roster of trained and experienced mediators to choose from, said Eric Hogue, district administrator.
The newly assigned mediators will add "backbone" to the program, he said.
"We've really brought in a good group of people," he said.
Mediation is an alternative dispute-resolution process that can help reduce court caseloads by resolving cases outside the courtroom. It is an informal process in which a neutral third party helps those in conflict negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement.
The mediator starts by explaining the process to both parties, and then the parties are given a chance to tell their side of the story. The mediator then suggests a negotiation process, promotes communication and helps the parties look at possible options for agreement.
Judges can order parties to mediate, but if no compromise can be reached, the case is kicked back to the judge.
Mediation can be less expensive, quicker and more confidential than going through court.
Many civil cases can be mediated if both parties are open to the idea of settling the dispute. And even if parties think they are unable to reach an agreement, the mediation process can help them talk through a problem and agree on a resolution.
On average, 64 percent of domestic disputes in Colorado are resolved in mediation.
Mediation works well in a variety of instances, including domestic relations, civil, juvenile and criminal cases. It also works with property disputes - for example, if two neighbors are arguing about a property line or trespass issue, Hogue said.
"You don't want to see those cases in court, because they take very long to resolve," he said.
Patricia Winslow, regional program administrator for the Office of Dispute Resolution in Southwest Colorado, said it's not the conflict that's the problem, "rather, how it's handled."
"Mediation and other alternative dispute-resolution processes provide a mechanism for our courts and communities to resolve conflicts in a constructive way, and ODR ensures it's done in a professional, affordable and efficient manner."
Mediators are required to have at least 40 hours of mediating training, considerable experience mediating disputes, substantive knowledge of Colorado law in the area in which they will be mediating, and familiarity with court procedures in civil and domestic relations cases.