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Follow-up support needed for mediation success

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

In 25 years as a family law attorney, Deetta Steinmetz has seen mediation be very successful between opposing parties. Agreements reached through two parties working together often endure better than orders handed down by a judge.

However, Steinmetz, a trained mediator, was frustrated that follow-up services were often not provided. No matter how much she, like any other mediator, helped the parties understand the interests and views of the other side, once the agreement had been reached and the mediation ended, no aftercare was offered.

Especially in the arena of family law, a change in the dynamics of the relationship can upend the mediated agreement and become a major point of contention. Steinmetz believes follow-up support could help families make adjustments and find peaceful resolutions rather than starting a new round of disputes.

il-deetta-steinmetz01-15col.jpg Family law attorney Deetta Steinmetz has designed a three-phase mediation program for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic that includes education and follow-up support.(IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Pulling from that experience, when Steinmetz set about designing a new family law mediation program at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, she included post-mediation support services. And she focused the entire program on peaceful conflict that creates an atmosphere of cooperation.

Steinmetz left private practice for the chance to build the mediation program at the clinic. She started with a clean slate then incorporated the elements she learned and saw in her practice that foster a good mediation.

She has never started a program from scratch and is apprehensive. But as the director of the Project PEACE (Peaceful Engagement And Conflict Education), she is also excited about the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“The primary thing, if they get nothing else, is to have the understanding and the idea there is a different way to live – a different way to look at conflict and life that is beneficial to the individual, the family and the children” Steinmetz said.

Coffee and brainstorming

The journey that led Steinmetz to the clinic began two years ago at a collaborative law seminar. She was immediately taken with the dispute resolution method, a sister concept to mediation, and was determined to add it to her practice.

However, finding other trained collaborative attorneys proved more difficult than expected. Steinmetz went to the clinic to volunteer, thinking she could get the collaborative experience she wanted at the nonprofit.

When she invited Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic Executive Director Josh Abel for a cup of coffee to make her proposal, she unknowingly interrupted a conversation the staff had long been having. The family law area in the clinic has never had the adequate resources needed to effectively serve the clients, according to Abel, and the staff has often mused that if they had the resources, they would offer services aimed at helping low-income families settle their disagreements outside of court.

The meeting for coffee spun into Steinmetz and Abel brainstorming possibilities. This, in turn, led to Steinmetz joining the clinic and launching Project PEACE.

Both Abel and Steinmetz advocate mediation because of the possible consequences of resolving family issues in a courtroom. They called it a hurt-filled process that just creates more animosity between the parties who, once the case is settled, are expected to work together on certain issues.

Steinmetz has found that family law cases are becoming more adversarial. She concedes her perception may be a result of being worn down from years in practice, but she feels parties are becoming angrier. There is now an expectation, even an acceptance, that the family law litigation will be ugly and painful.

“I feel our family law system, our traditional system, makes things worse rather than better,” Steinmetz said.

The family law cases coming into the clinic would benefit from mediation, Abel said. For example, when a change in work schedule disrupts a parent’s visitation with the children, the two parties really just need to sit down together and figure out a new schedule.

With Project PEACE, the goal is to provide the mediation as well as give the parties the skills they can use to circumvent future fights over family issues like custody arrangements, parenting time and child support payments.

Reducing the wait

Mediation is mediation, explained Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts. It works with individuals and families regardless of income, education and upbringing.

Allen County courts have seen the success mediation can bring among a diverse group, which bodes well for Project PEACE.

The county was the first in Indiana to introduce a mediation program in 1997 as part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program in Domestic Relations created by the Indiana General Assembly. This program allows counties to collect a $20 fee from filings for legal separation, paternity or dissolution. The fee then goes into a separate fund to be used for mediation, arbitration and parental counseling in the county.

In addition to mediation services, the county has expanded the program to include mediation days and arbitration afternoons which open the courthouse to individuals needing a one- or two-hour session to workout a situation.

Within a few months of the mediation program being implemented, the court’s calendar became lighter. The wait time to get into court was reduced from a year to five or six months. Moreover, Felts said the agreements reached in the sessions have withstood the test of time, keeping people out of the courts.

“I think people were just ready for it,” the judge said, explaining the program’s success. “People recognize the benefit of mediation.”

Three phases

As Steinmetz designed Project PEACE, the program will have three phases that center around the concepts of forgiveness and communication.

Phase One will be a workshop for the parties getting ready to enter mediation. The participants will be tasked with finding a way to extend an olive branch by examining their own feelings and motivations, and by trying to understand the interests and emotions of the opposing party.

Attorney and current seminary student Amy McCabe is volunteering to draft the curriculum and will facilitate the sessions.

Phase Two will be the actual mediation that follows ADR rules, with a focus on the relationship. The parties will draw upon the forgiveness and communication skills they learned in Phase One as they work toward an agreement.

In the mediation process, the clinic will remain the neutral entity. It will neither advocate nor provide legal assistance to either party.

Phase Three will be the follow-up support. The aftercare is envisioned as taking the form of discussion groups and peace mentors that, again, reinforce the skills taught in Phase One. Monthly discussion groups or support meetings would be available to the parties whenever they want to attend. The peace mentors will be trained volunteers who provide a shoulder to lean on and someone to talk to, just like a comforting friend.

Steinmetz plans to start offering the Phase One workshops by June. Eventually she would like to see the program grow to include collaborative law and become available to anyone needing help, regardless of income.

While she conceded not everyone will want to participate, she is confident the program at the clinic will benefit many.

“I think there’s going to be a decent amount of people who will go through the process and be grateful,” Steinmetz said. •

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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