The 8th Circuit Court of Florida has put out a call for volunteer mediators. The goal is to help settle the backlog of small claims cases in courts throughout Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union County courtrooms. The cases that would be affected have claims of less than $8000 and in most of the cases; plaintiffs and defendants have been waiting months, if not years, to resolve their matter.
Mediators work as third-party neutrals who oversee negotiations regarding a case. They encourage mutually beneficial dispute resolution and help parties stay on task when discussing a dispute. They also remind them how difficult it can be to take a matter into the courtroom, giving up control of the entire outcome.
Eighth Circuit Court mediators deal with a variety of cases, including landlord/tenant, contract, recovery of money and/or property, consumer, employer/employee dispute, auto repair and more.
Volunteer applicants must be 21 years of age or older, hold a high school diploma or GED, and be “of good moral character.” They will undergo a criminal background check and participate in a week of training. Mediators are also asked to commit to a minimum of two years of volunteering in the program and be willing to mediate at least six cases per year.
According to Patricia Antonucci, the program’s coordinator, “Mediation helps reduce the number of cases that actually go to trial, which helps ease the load for a crowded judicial system. In addition, litigants often have a better experience.” She further explained, “I think it is very helpful for the litigants to have self-determination in how their case resolves. And if their case resolves, it is always easier for people to [accept] an outcome they have some hand in developing.”