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Baker & Daniels hosts pro bono mediations

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As a way to help judges and parties in paternity court in Marion County, an Indianapolis law firm recently offered conference rooms and support staff for a day of pro bono mediation in its offices, something firm members say they hope other law firms will consider if they have the available space.

Organized by the Indianapolis Bar Association ADR and pro bono committees, the event was hosted Aug. 3 by Baker & Daniels’ downtown Indianapolis office.

Brita Horvath and Andrew Campbell, co-chairs of the pro bono section who both work for Baker & Daniels, offered the space when asked by the ADR committee’s chair Jill Goldenberg of Cohen Garelick & Glazier, and incoming chair Elisabeth Edwards of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson in Carmel.

Edwards said they had more than enough offers from volunteer mediators for that day and anticipated future pro bono mediations would also have good volunteer participation.

ProBono Greg Noland of Emswiller Williams Noland & Clarke talks with the parties about his role in their pro bono mediation. The Indianapolis Bar Association ADR and pro bono committees organized the event. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Because this was a first-time event, Commissioner Sheryl Lynch assigned 10 mediations for paternity cases based on what she thought would be likely to settle while screening non-domestic violence cases that would come through paternity court.

Past-ADR committee chair Holly Wanzer, also of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson, participated in the mediations and said paternity cases were likely the easiest family law cases to resolve in this type of setting because they had a finite number of issues.

Sessions were scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Most of the cases settled or concluded in some way.

A handful of the scheduled cases settled prior to the mediation day, but Edwards and Wanzer said that was still a positive thing in terms of lightening the court’s docket. Both said that knowing there was a court date looming, the parties probably got more serious about settling.

But even with fewer mediations taking place than scheduled, the mediators who volunteered and helped organize the event said it was still worthwhile overall.

Wanzer had a case that settled after an hour and a half. She said the parties had attorneys available by phone in case the parties decided they wanted to talk to them, but in the end they settled without calling attorneys.

“Both were defensive when they came in the door,” she said. “They were here by court order, not by choice. But once we started talking about issues as they related to their child, it turned out they agreed on more than they thought. We were able to get past the emotional aspects of ‘I’m mad at you.’ … The big winner in this case was the child. They were able to set up new arrangements for parenting time that will start this week.”

Another success story from the day was from Judy Tyrrell of Tabbert Hahn Earnest & Weddle. In the case she handled, she said both parties had attorneys in the room who she said were “very cooperative and helpful.”

She said they started around 8 a.m. and had an agreement by 9 a.m., followed by some tweaking.

“The lawyers were realistic with their clients,” Tyrrell said. “Neither one got everything they wanted, but they each got more than they thought they would.”

Phyllis Armstrong of The Mediation Group in Indianapolis also ended her mediation with a signed agreement. Her parties took about three hours to come to agreement, and like Tyrell, both parties had attorneys with them in the room.

“They said they had tried to talk before,” she said, but that it helped to have a mediator to keep them focused on what really mattered in their case. “They were elated when they learned they’d leave with something they could sign. It helped them wrap up loose ends.”

But Edwards wasn’t as lucky.

The father in her case never showed up. She said she was disappointed because she told the mother who did show up that this would be a chance for her opinions to be heard and that the father in the case would have to be civil and respectful in the mediation setting.

Edwards said she was “99.99 percent sure” the case would have ended with a signed agreement, but she guessed that because the father didn’t attend, it would only look bad on future appearances for his case.

The mediators also agreed there was a sense of seriousness in the room because there was a judge pro tem on-site to sign off on mediations and file them with the court. It was also more convenient, they agreed.

“There’s also the possibility the judge won’t sign off on an agreement,” so having one here to explain why would allow the parties a chance to do whatever they need to do to get the judge’s approval while they’re still here, she said.

“Ideally this would be an annual event, if not two times a year,” she said. “I’m confident there are enough cases. When we put a call out to the ADR section for volunteers, we had to turn people away.”

While Marion County does offer a modest means mediation program for family law cases, which has a sliding scale for parties that can be as low as $10, organizers noted this program was free for the parties.

They also said that by having the space at Baker & Daniels – five conference rooms, plus an extra room with a small table and a phone if anyone wanted to take a break to meet with or call an attorney, not to mention access to support staff – was a huge help.

The mediators were also able to invoice the court $100 per hour for their time, as any mediator who offers to work for the modest means program is able to do, but in this case they donated the funds to the Indianapolis Bar Foundation.

All those involved said if other firms would like to host a similar event, they could be contacted directly. Horvath said she’d be happy to answer questions from the perspective of someone who hosted the event, and she can be reached at Brita.Horvath@bakerd.com. Goldenberg who oversaw the event can be reached at jgoldenberg@cgglawfirm.com.•

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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