Hays County Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) Executive Director Anna Bartkowski and DRC President Walt Krudop at last week’s meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) officials recently issued an annual report claiming more than $105,000 in cost savings for the county in 2010 despite a lower than expected referral rate.
The DRC, legally named Central Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution, Inc., offers low-cost mediation services to parties whose dispute involves no more than $50,000. The DRC offers mediation services to disputants whose combined income is not more than approximately $60,000.
The DRC’s annual report includes information about the organization’s first full year of operation, which includes the period of Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010. The report said the DRC mediated 35 cases involving approximately 170 people during that period.
“Twenty-five cases per month is the maximum amount this program structure can do,” said DRC Executive Director Anna Bartkowski. “But even with that number of cases, we would have to get additional staff on. That is kind of a long-term, maximum target goal.”
During its first year, the DRC initiated seven mediation programs related to justice of the peace courts, county courts/district courts, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, law enforcement, community, Texas State, and family law, respectively. The DRC also offers a mediation and conflict resolution training program.
DRC officials said their family and protective services mediation program is their most successful effort, so far. The program allows the organization to mediate cases referred from district courts and the Hays County District Attorney’s Office. The cases involve issues related to child protective services and parental rights termination.
“These are often complex and highly emotional cases involving mediations of up to 12 hours, and in some cases, multiple sessions,” said the DRC’s annual report. “They typically involve multiple parties (four or more) and multiple attorneys.”
Eight cases were referred to the DRC’s family and protective services mediation program, according to the annual report. The aforementioned $105,000 cost savings represents the cost to the county for three appointed attorneys to participate in a four-day trial if the eight cases had not reached mediated settlement agreements.
The report said the DRC facilitated other cost savings to the county. However, without specific court cost per case figures available, the report said it is not possible to calculate those savings.
“We have certainly covered our costs to the county, which was $65,000 or $68,000 this past year,” said DRC President Walt Krudop to Hays County commissioners last week.
DRC officials said they are hopeful their organization can subsist solely on filing fees and grants in its fourth year of operation. In addition to funding from the commissioners court, the DRC collects $15 per filing on all civil cases filed in district and county courts and $5 per filing on certain civil cases filed in justice of the peace courts.
Hays County commissioners voted 4-1 on Sept. 21 to give the DRC $20,000 for this budget year.
The DRC generates income from fees for enhanced skills training for professionals. The DRC provides conflict resolution skills training to community-based organizations and county programs at no charge.
Krudop said some cases referred to the DRC are not mediated and instead are settled before they reach the DRC.
“We settled approximately 75 percent of the cases we received,” Krudop said.
Krudop said the average national settlement rate for DRCs is 68 percent.
The DRC’s justice of the peace courts mediation program received 23 cases, 13 of which were mediated and seven of which were settled. The 13 cases affected 58 individuals, 12 businesses, and nine attorneys. The program involved 81 volunteer hours.
The DRC’s county courts/district courts mediation program received two cases, one of which was mediated and settled. The case affected two individuals, two businesses, and two attorneys. The program involved nine volunteer hours.
The DRC’s department of family and protective services mediation program received eight cases, eight of which were mediated and seven of which settled. The mediated cases affected 12 families, three agencies, and 18 attorneys. The program involved 63 volunteer hours.
The DRC’s community mediation program received seven cases, five of which were mediated and settled. The cases affected 10 individuals, three businesses, and three attorneys. The program involved 23.5 volunteer hours.
The DRC’s Texas State mediation program received eight cases, five of which were mediated and three of which settled. The program involved 22.5 volunteer hours.
The DRC’s family law mediation program received five cases, four of which were mediated and three of which settled. The program involved 30 volunteer hours.
The DRC’s law enforcement mediation program received seven cases, one of which was mediated and settled. The case affected 26 individuals and two businesses. The program involved 32 volunteer hours.
“There are tangible savings in law enforcement referred cases, where multiple calls to agencies require responses that can cost up to $240 per response, and in some cases can involve over 60 responses totaling $14,400,” said the DRC’s annual report. “From a court standpoint, every case settled in mediation avoids a place on the docket and in the court room, freeing the court to deal with cases more appropriate for adjudication.”
The DRC’s annual report said the organization provides training in basic and family mediation skills for potential mediators and offers conflict resolution skills for the general public, public and private organizations, and associations. In providing the mediation services and training, the DRC uses all-volunteer mediators credentialed through the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.
“During the reporting period, volunteer mediators contributed 230 volunteer hours,” said the DRC’s annual report. “All the trainers are either on the faculty at nearby universities or professionals in their fields, and provide their time on a volunteer basis.”
The DRC’s mediation and conflict resolution training program provided 12 people with basic course mediation training and 10 people with advanced 30-hour family mediation training. The DRC’s district resource center provided services to 135 people. The DRC provided conflict resolution training to 508 people. The DRC provided interest based negotiation training to 10 people.