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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. How nice, on the day of my car accident on the way to work at the Indiana Supreme Court. Unlike the others, I did not steal any money or do ANYTHING unethical whatsoever. I am suing the Indiana Supreme Court and appealed the failure of the district court in SDIN to protect me. I am suing the federal judge because she failed to protect me and her abandonment of jurisdiction leaves her open to lawsuits because she stripped herself of immunity. I am a candidate for Indiana Supreme Court justice, and they imposed just enough sanction so that I am made ineligible. I am asking the 7th Circuit to remove all of them and appoint me as the new Chief Justice of Indiana. That's what they get for dishonoring my sacrifice and and violating the ADA in about 50 different ways.

  2. Can anyone please help this mother and child? We can all discuss the mother's rights, child's rights when this court only considered the father's rights. It is actually scarey to think a man like this even being a father period with custody of this child. I don't believe any of his other children would have anything good to say about him being their father! How many people are afraid to say anything or try to help because they are afraid of Carl. He's a bully and that his how he gets his way. Please someone help this mother and child. There has to be someone that has the heart and the means to help this family.

  3. I enrolled America's 1st tax-free Health Savings Account (HSA) so you can trust me. I bet 1/3 of my clients were lawyers because they love tax-free deposits, growth and withdrawals or total tax freedom. Most of the time (always) these clients are uninformed about insurance law. Employer-based health insurance is simple if you read the policy. It says, Employers (lawyers) and employees who are working 30-hours-per-week are ELIGIBLE for insurance. Then I show the lawyer the TERMINATION clause which states: When you are no longer ELIGIBLE! Then I ask a closing question (sales term) to the lawyer which is, "If you have a stroke or cancer and become too sick to work can you keep your health insurance?" If the lawyer had dependent children they needed a "Dependent Conversion Privilege" in case their child got sick or hurt which the lawyers never had. Lawyers are pretty easy sales. Save premium, eliminate taxes and build wealth!

  4. Ok, so cheap laughs made about the Christian Right. hardiharhar ... All kidding aside, it is Mohammad's followers who you should be seeking divine protection from. Allahu Akbar But progressives are in denial about that, even as Europe crumbles.

  5. Father's rights? What about a mothers rights? A child's rights? Taking a child from the custody of the mother for political reasons! A miscarriage of justice! What about the welfare of the child? Has anyone considered parent alienation, the father can't erase the mother from the child's life. This child loves the mother and the home in Wisconsin, friends, school and family. It is apparent the father hates his ex-wife more than he loves his child! I hope there will be a Guardian Ad Litem, who will spend time with and get to know the child, BEFORE being brainwashed by the father. This is not just a child! A little person with rights and real needs, a stable home and a parent that cares enough to let this child at least finish the school year, where she is happy and comfortable! Where is the justice?

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