In 2018 the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Dispute Resolution Section and the court’s 21-member statewide Commission on Dispute Resolution pursued initiatives consistent with the National Center for State Courts’ poll reflecting that, not surprisingly, Americans prefer to avoid taking their disputes to court. Examples of Ohio’s initiatives include 1) hosting a statewide dispute resolution conference; 2) developing a mobile web application to help prevent truancy; 3) creating a statewide child-protection-mediation program in response to the increased number of abuse, neglect, and dependency cases brought about by the opioid epidemic and other substance-abuse issues; 4) developing statewide, probate-court dispute resolution options for high-conflict families that turn to courts for resolutions regarding the care and needs of aging persons; 5) recommending changes to statewide rules governing mediation, mediator qualifications and training, civil-stalking-protection-order mediation, and probate-court dispute resolution; and 6) responding to the Conference of Chief Justices’ Civil Justice Improvements Committee recommendations.
Statewide Dispute Resolution Conference
Calling upon Ohio’s history as a national leader in dispute resolution innovation, the Supreme Court of Ohio invited members of the bench, bar, and public to participate in its first statewide dispute resolution conference. The conference, which drew nearly 500 people, focused on integrating contemporary dispute resolution processes into today’s courts and featured speakers and experts in dispute resolution from across the country. The conference offered 40 breakout sessions on a wide range of topics that showcased innovative dispute resolution techniques and focused on developing exceptional dispute resolution skills.
Technology to Prevent Truancy
With funding provided by a grant from the JAMS Foundation and administered by the Association for Conflict Resolution, the Dispute Resolution Section is working with the Ohio Department of Education to create a mobile web application to help reduce truancy, keep students out of the juvenile justice system, and increase school attendance. The development of the web-based application offers an innovative way to use technology to meet students where they live — on their phones, mobile devices, tablets, and computers. The app is part of a pilot program in the Greene County Juvenile Court and the Xenia Community School District to help youth develop problem-solving skills through participation in conflict resolution and education. Youth, some of whom were involved in the juvenile court’s diversion program, contributed to the content and design of the app and made recommendations on the type of embedded incentives to promote engagement — and will engage in conflict-resolution-skill-building activities throughout the 2018-2019 school year. Evidence-based evaluation of the pilot program is being conducted by the Resolution Systems Institute, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen justice by enhancing court alternative dispute resolution systems.
Child-Protection Mediation in Response to the Opioid Epidemic and Other Substance-Abuse Issues
In response to the overwhelming court and state agency challenges to resources caused by the increase in child-protection cases, the Commission on Dispute Resolution recommended a statewide child-protection mediation program working with problem-solving drug-treatment dockets to streamline medical-provider referrals and overlapping processes. Although state court civil caseloads have declined, Ohio saw a 13 percent increase in the number of incoming abuse, neglect, and dependency cases from 2016 to 2017. Child-welfare cases have been increasing steadily since 2014.1 As reported by the Times Reporter, a study conducted by the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health revealed more than 500,000 years of life expectancy were lost in Ohio from 2010 to 2016 because of the opioid epidemic.2
Child-protection mediation recognizes that parents whose children have been removed by the system experience state intervention in the most basic of human relationships. They come to legal proceedings having been identified as failures and feel powerless. Many conclude that the only meaningful way to exert control in their lives is to resist the social-service delivery system. Child-protection mediation programs recognize that while there are some legal issues in child-protection cases that must be tried, many cases that go to trial that could be resolved earlier and more thoughtfully if the court system provided an environment for collaborative problem solving. The process of mediation can be an effective method of nonadversarial conflict resolution in child-protection cases. It is also an effective way to increase all parties’ understanding of the issues and promote quicker and more successful cooperation with services.3
Expansion of Eldercaring Coordination Pilot Program
Ohio participates in a national pilot program focused on providing dispute resolution options that assist courts and families in addressing issues relating to the care and safety of older adults. The pilot program, called Eldercaring Coordination, is part of an Association for Conflict Resolution Elder Justice Initiative to assist elders, legally authorized decision makers, and others who participate by court order or invitation to resolve high-conflict disputes in a manner that respects the elder’s need for autonomy and safety.
Eldercaring Coordination is to complement, not replace, other services, such as provision of legal information or legal representation; individual/family therapy; medical, psychological, or psychiatric evaluation; or mediation. Eldercaring Coordination helps meet the anticipated increase in cases in probate courts as the number of Baby Boomers reaching 65 years of age will double from 2008 to 2030. Eldercaring Coordination is governed by guidelines developed by the Association for Conflict Resolution Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination.
Recommended Changes to Statewide Rules Governing Dispute Resolution
To promote quality, consistency, and transparency, Ohio’s statewide rules governing dispute resolution saw numerous recommended changes in 2018. The Supreme Court of Ohio adopted temporary rules to permit a mediation pilot program of certain types of nontraditional civil-stalking protection-order cases, such as neighbor-to-neighbor disputes.4 Proposals were introduced to enhance mediator qualifications and training, to administer dispute resolution programs among public officials, and to establish prefiling dispute resolution options in probate courts.5 To effectuate the increased training requirements for mediators, online mediation training was developed.6
Civil Justice Initiative
The Dispute Resolution Section created training as part of a response to the recommendations to the Conference of Chief Justices by the CCJ Civil Justice Improvements Committee. Statewide training was conducted in May 2018 in Akron and Columbus to explore implementation of rules and best practices for courts to manage civil cases. Speakers discussed creative options, such as online dispute resolution for family courts and municipal courts. Other topics included cost-effective ways to use mediation and other dispute resolution options using existing resources, budget-neutral impacts, and reassignment of the duties of existing staff.
There are many ways courts can respond to the needs of litigants outside the courtroom by offering innovative, cost-effective solutions. While parties have expressed an ongoing interest to resolve cases and make peace outside of the courtroom, courts can sponsor and explore innovative dispute resolution options to meet the needs of parties and maintain the public’s trust and confidence in the state court system.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Geyer is the manager of the Dispute Resolution Section of the Supreme Court of Ohio and one of the supreme court mediators. She manages the mediation program for public officials called the Government Conflict Resolution Services (GCRS) Program. She serves as the liaison to the Commission on Dispute Resolution. Geyer is licensed to practice law in Ohio and joined the supreme court in 2016 with over 20 years of experience.
- Supreme Court of Ohio, “Ohio Courts Statistical Summary 2016,” Office of Court Services, Columbus.
- J. Baker, “Study: Opioid Epidemic Lowers Life Expectancy in Ohio,” Times Reporter (New Philadelphia, Ohio), June 20, 2018.
- Teresa “Tammy” Martin-Kosier, mediation coordinator, Ohio Mediation and Conflict Management Services, Ashtabula County, Ohio.
- See Rules of Superintendence of the Courts of Ohio, Temporary Rule, 1.01-1.08.
- See Proposed Rule Amendments, Supreme Court of Ohio and the Ohio Judicial System.
- See Judicial College, Supreme Court of Ohio and Ohio Judicial System.