December 2014 Bar Bulletin
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December 2014 Bar Bulletin

DRC Anti-Harassment Resolution Program Enjoys Fast Start

By John Butler

 

In May of this year, in addition to its small claims court mediation program, King County's Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) began to provide mediation services to select anti-harassment cases referred to it by the King County District Court. This program has been tremendously successful, relieving the case load in the courts, saving public dollars and, most importantly, successfully resolving high-level conflict in our neighborhoods and communities, with a 90-percent resolution rate of all cases to date.

Petitions for anti-harassment orders make up a very high percentage of District Court cases. In King County last year, 62 percent of all cases filed - 2,800 out of 4,500 - were anti-harassment petitions. The anti-harassment calendar takes a tremendous amount of the court's time, and rarely does a court order actually end the conflict. Last spring, Assistant Chief Presiding Judge Donna K. Tucker asked the DRC to initiate this new program to mediate anti-harassment cases to help relieve the pressure on the court and help litigants find lasting solutions to their conflicts.

"My anti-harassment order is the least effective way to deal with disputes between neighbors and blended families," said Judge Tucker at a recent training for anti-harassment mediators. "These people have got to learn how to get along, to navigate their relationships. These disputes need mediation."

In the anti-harassment mediations conducted so far, the parties have had a chance to really understand each other and reach lasting resolutions. Skilled volunteer mediators donate from 10-20 hours to each case, conducting intake and providing extensive conflict coaching to the individuals prior to the mediation, so that parties are prepared to discuss solutions when they arrive at the mediation. These cases are time intensive and emotionally charged, and often involve individuals with mental illness (particularly PTSD) or who live in transitional housing. Even so, the DRC has been extremely successful; in 90 percent of the cases the parties either have settled or decided to drop the case.

This new program builds upon the DRC's strong relationship with King County District Court. Since 1992, the DRC has provided mediation services in all small claims courts in King County. Last year, it mediated 855 small claims cases, saving substantial court time and tax dollars. The DRC anticipates that other dispute resolution centers across the state will likely wish to implement similar programs, and it intends to share its expertise with the other centers through Resolution Washington, the statewide association of dispute resolution centers.

Though the DRC's work in small claims court receives county funding, its anti-harassment program does not. The DRC anticipates that once all District Court judges refer their anti-harassment cases to it, the DRC will have a large number to handle, requiring additional staff time to train and coordinate mediators and to provide case management. (Program costs are minimized by using volunteer mediators to conduct the in-take process and mediation.) The DRC is committed to the long-term sustainability of this program, however.

The Dispute Resolution Center of King County is a nonprofit agency with IRS 501(c)(3) status. It is a community-based organization that provides affordable conflict resolution services, education and training for individuals and organizations in King County. Its mission is to open pathways to understanding and to solve conflict.

The DRC was founded in 1986 by a task force of the King County Bar Association and interested community members, and opened its doors at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. In 1992, the DRC began a relationship with King County District Court to provide mediation services in small claims court and has provided these services ever since.


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