While a struggling economy does not slow down the caseload at the Marion County Circuit Court Paternity Division, it does increase the need for pro bono services. The Indianapolis Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section in partnership with the Bar’s Pro Bono Standing Committee worked to meet the needs of paternity litigants at the 2nd Annual Mediation Days program on September 15, 2011. The Mediation Days program matches paternity litigants headed for trial with volunteer mediators for a day of free mediation. Because having access to resources like conference room space and administrative support are necessary for efforts like this to occur, downtown law firm Baker & Daniels generously provided space, support staff and refreshments for participants, their attorneys and the volunteer mediators.
The Marion County Circuit Paternity Court ordered ten pending cases to mediation provided by the program. Whether represented by counsel or negotiating the legal system pro se, litigants involved in cases assigned to the program were able to receive free mediation services from experienced mediators Phyllis Armstrong of the Mediation Group, Andrea Ciobanu, Jenifer Habecker, Elodie Meuser of the Mediation Option, Greg Noland of Emswiller Noland Williams & Clark, Melanie Reichert of Broyles Kight & Ricafort, Judy Tyrrell, Mary Wisehart Phillips, and Holly Wanzer of Wanzer Edwards, PC.
Presiding Master Commissioner Sheryl Lynch of the Marion County Paternity Court was on site to approve agreements in the afternoon, and called the program a success. “It was a great opportunity for the Marion Circuit Court, Paternity Division to participate for the 2nd year. It’s phenomenal that everyone understands how busy our Court is, and we’re so honored that they want to volunteer their time.” Commissioner Marie Kern was on site to approve agreements in the morning. She added, “With all of the technicalities that these agreements have to have, such as specific language regarding medical expense orders, pro se litigants just can’t keep up with it. Rather than call parties in for a hearing who otherwise agree but can’t get the language right, mediation was a great way to resolve cases.”
Law students were invited to participate in this year’s program with at least one student assigned to each mediation session to shadow the mediator. Student Erica Drew thoroughly “enjoyed the great opportunity” to learn from actual practicing mediators. Student Marcie Wolf used the day for observation for her Public Policy and Mediation Course. All went home with a much greater understanding of how the process really works.
Last year, the Marion County Family Court project provided funds to pay mediators, which the mediators pooled and donated to the Indianapolis Bar Foundation on behalf of the ADR Section and its members. However, despite there not being any funds available this year, the program was not short on volunteers. ADR Section Executive Committee Chair Elisabeth Edwards said, “It was an overwhelmingly positive response from the local mediators. It is a good position to be in to have all cases filled and 5 alternates lined up to fill-in if needed.”•