With today's crowded court dockets, court officials are turning to mediators to resolve legal issues prior to court appearances - particularly in civil and family cases.

An effort to recruit more mediators is in progress.

The volunteers help disputing parties resolve conflicts outside of the courtroom, thereby speeding up the court process and saving money, according to local mediator Charles Shipman.

The Early Settlement-Northeast Mediation Program is currently accepting volunteer candidates for training to assist with mediation in Ottawa, Washington, Delaware, Nowata, Osage, Mayes, Craig, and Rogers counties.

The training seminar is planned on Oct. 22-23 at the Mayes County Courthouse in Pryor.

A volunteer for almost 13 years, Shipman said those considering the mediator training should have a desire to help people solve their problems.

“They help those in conflict define issues, explore solutions and reach practical, workable and mutually satisfactory agreements,” Shipman said.

“They can be full time or part time, the hours are flexible. They can work in any county and specify where or when. We try to match them with a schedule, Shipman said.”

Shipman said mediators tend to stay in the program.

“People find it very satisfying that they've been able to contribute,” Shipman said.

Mediation varies from small claims court to family and divorce settlements. During a court case, conflicts may arise that a judge feels would benefit from mediation.

That's where the volunteers come in, according to Shipman.

The parties in dispute meet with one or two mediators, and, often, the lawyers. The sessions are generally held in jury rooms, conference rooms or libraries.

“It could be about paint jobs on cars, motorcycle repair jobs, neighbors in dispute, landlords and tenants, lots of things. In Oklahoma, small claims court is anything under $6,500, which includes a lot,” Shipman said.

Recently, they have mediated cases regarding grandparent visitation. Other common scenarios include child permanency and parent/school conflicts.

“Judges are supposed to rule on law, but in many court cases, judges are ruling on people's personal lives,” Shipman said. “In mediation, you're given the opportunity to make those decisions for yourself, within the law.”

Volunteers who complete the training process go through a period of mentoring before they handle cases alone.

“Once they have a few mediations under their belt, then they go on to the week-long family and divorce training held in June,” Shipman said.

Not all cases must be referred by the legal system. Anyone involved in a dispute may call one of the centers throughout the state and request mediation. The charge is $5. However, the Early Settlement Center cannot compel both parties to show up for mediation, it is a voluntary process.

“We're just trying to encourage volunteers, especially women, to attend. Right now, we really need women to volunteer,” Shipman said.

Training is free.

Anyone interested may contact Ann Wilkins, director of Early Settlement-Northeast at 800-722-9614, Ext. 3007 or Shipman at 918-213-5558 to request a mediation application form.

The Early Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution Systems are administered by the Oklahoma Administrative Office of the Courts.

Twelve Early Settlement offices are located throughout Oklahoma so that all counties has a designated program to serve its residents.