November 01, 2013 Dispute Resolution

Court-Connected Mediation and Minorities

Sharon Press

In 1988, Florida and Texas became the first states to adopt legislation authorizing trial judges to order any civil case to mediation. Over the past 25 years, court-connected mediation has grown exponentially. The focus of this article is an exploration of whether progress has been made regarding minorities’ experience, as both mediators and parties, in court-connected mediation.

Minority mediators. The modern court-connected mediation movement can trace its roots to community mediation. Community mediation began with a strong commitment to employing racially diverse personnel and volunteer mediators. Over the years, court-connected mediation matured and evolved from primarily criminal justice system alternative or diversion programs to an avenue for addressing civil matters. Programs also saw the amounts in disputes considered appropriate for mediation increase dramatically, from those in “minor” disputes to no upward dollar limit. These changes were accompanied by an increased professionalization of the field and an expectation among many, if not most, that mediators would be compensated.

As the court-connected programs expanded in their breadth and depth, the commitment to mediator diversity waned. The qualifications for mediators were often tied to professional licensure or prior judicial experience. Given that the legal profession is not yet ethnically and racially representative of the population, it is no surprise that these qualifications had the unintended consequences of wiping out much of the mediator diversity in the field.

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