BOWLING GREEN - After not quite a year on the job, mediator Michael Hyrne has helped people involved in 81 civil suits in Wood and Hancock counties settle their differences outside the courtroom - just outside the courtroom.
"I usually do the mediation in the jury room of the judge's office so that the parties get a flavor of the court experience," Mr. Hyrne said. "Sometimes I'll literally walk them through the courtroom and let them take a look at the jury box so they know they're at ground zero."
The idea of the mediation program, which was funded through a $110,400 grant from the Ohio Supreme Court, is not to deprive anyone of the right to a judge and jury but to provide a chance to work out disputes without going through the time and expense of taking the case to trial.
Mr. Hyrne said the process actually gives people more control: They decide the outcome of the case rather than letting a judge or jury do so.
Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry said in some cases, parties have decided to give mediation a chance before they've even gone through the expense of taking depositions.
Mr. Hyrne, a lawyer from Lambertville, was hired last year to mediate civil cases in both Wood and Hancock counties. He met with Wood County commissioners Thursday to talk about his role and what he's accomplished since starting the program July 1.
He estimated he's helped resolve cases with settlements totaling more than $3 million. Judges appreciate the reduction in their dockets, and they said local attorneys are getting more comfortable about trying mediation.
"I'm noticing that attorneys are more willing to look to mediation earlier in the case," Judge Robert Pollex said. "It used to be a last resort - sometimes on the eve of the trial."
Judge Mayberry said when mediation was used in the past, the parties had to either hire a private mediator or another attorney and then split the cost. Now both Wood and Hancock county courts collect an additional $50 fee when a civil suit is filed, and that money is set aside for the mediation program. There is no extra charge if the case goes to mediation.
"That's really a bargain," Judge Mayberry said of the $50 fee.
While the Supreme Court is expected to fund the program for another year, the filing fees are expected to cover the cost of operating the program in future years.
County commissioners were enthusiastic about seeing the program continue.
"This makes too much sense," Commissioner Jim Carter said. "Why didn't we think of this sooner?"
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