Dispute Resolution Center of King County Programs
The Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) provides a number of conflict resolution services including mediation, conflict coaching, services and training. DRC mediators are present at every small claims court session in King County so that parties have an opportunity to try mediation at the court house on the day of their hearing. Mediation allows for more flexible agreements than a judgment and is confidential. There is no fee for the service. If the parties don't reach agreement during the mediation, they can still have their case heard by the judge the same day.
The DRC also offers mediation services at our Seattle office on a sliding fee scale. Our mediators help the parties talk through their problems in a fair, civil, and safe way so that they can find a solution that works for both of them.
The DRC also provides mediation services to King County homeowners and their lenders to assist them in exploring alternatives to foreclosure and reach a resolution, such as a loan re-modification, when possible. We conduct this program in partnership with the Washington Department of Commerce Foreclosure Fairness Program and Resolution Washington, the statewide association of dispute resolution centers. Statewide and within King County, roughly one-third of homeowners facing foreclosure who participate in the Foreclosure Fairness Program retain their homes.
Community partnerships are key to our mission: we work closely with King County District Court (Small Claims and Anti-Harassment mediations), the Washington State Department of Commerce (mediations under the Foreclosure Fairness Act), Federal Way Municipal Court (mediations), and Green River Community College (mediations and trainings). We are currently building a partnership with the Latina/o Bar Association and El Centro de la Raza to provide conflict coaching and mediation services at their free monthly legal clinic.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
The DRC took a significant step in 2014 by implementing an Anti-Harassment Mediation Program in partnership with King County District Court.
Assistant Chief Presiding Judge Donna K. Tucker asked the DRC to initiate this new program to help relieve the pressure on the court and help litigants find lasting solutions to their conflicts. Petitions for anti-harassment orders make up a very high percentage of District Court cases. In King County in 2013, 62 percent of all cases filed - 2800 out of 4500 - 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.
The Court selects the anti-harassment cases that are most suitable for mediation, and refers them to the DRC. In the mediations conducted so far, the parties have had a chance to really understand each other and reach lasting resolutions. Skilled volunteer mediators donate between 6-14 hours to each case, conducting an in-depth interview 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.
Anti-harassment mediations are time-intensive, emotionally charged, and often involve individuals with mental illness (particularly PTSD) or who live in transitional housing. Despite these challenges, the parties have reached a resolution 91 percent of the time.
The program is relieving the case load in our courts, saving public dollars, and most importantly, successfully resolving high-level conflict in our neighborhoods and communities."
The DRC is also currently engaged in a diversity and inclusion initiative focused on enlarging the reach of our services to more diverse communities within King County; increasing the number of mediators and volunteers of different backgrounds; and increasing cultural competence among our staff and all our volunteers, including board and mediators. We are committed to revising our policies, procedures, practices and standards to advance diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity, both within the DRC and within our programs and services.
We seek funding to assist three specific initiatives related to our diversity and inclusion work: Outreach and conflict resolution services to the Hispanic community in partnership with the Latina/o Bar Association and El Centro de la Raza; enlarging our Conciliation Program which will increase the number of opportunities for mediators from diverse backgrounds to join our cadre; and training our staff and volunteers in cultural competence, undoing institutional racism, and skill building to bridge group divides and interrupt exclusive dynamics.
We have already started this work and implemented positive change in every program area in 2014. In addition, we formed a preliminary Diversity Task Force made up of board members and staff in summer 2014. And in March 2015, we convened a Diversity Task Force made up of a diverse group of community members who will to guide us further in this work in 2015. We are analyzing our organization across the board in terms of diversity and inclusion, and strategizing further steps to ensure that cultural, social, and other differences are respected and celebrated at the DRC. We are working to provide and support a culturally competent work environment that will enrich our interactions with each other and the individuals and organizations we serve.