Spotlight on Pro Bono: First Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Family Mediation Program
By Missy Greathouse
Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc. (DRI) has provided pro bono family mediation services to the first judicial circuit for the last nine years and is the only pro bono mediation organization available to the courts and families in southern Illinois.
DRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to help people in conflict find common ground, resolve disputes, and reach agreement. In 2008, the Mediation Association of Southern Illinois (MASI) dissolved to form and incorporate DRI as a 501(c)(3). Opening its doors on Aug. 1, 2009, DRI has administered several mediation programs throughout Illinois. DRI was created by the hard work of its founder and first executive director, Mary Rudasill, and the founding board of directors. Rudasill retired from SIU School of Law in 2009, where she was the director of clinical studies. She served as president and executive director of DRI from 2009 until 2012, where she stepped down from the board to continue her work as executive director. Even after her retirement in December 2016, Rudasill still serves as a pro bono mediator and mentor to DRI staff and local mediators. In addition to Rudasill, the founding board of directors included local southern Illinois attorney-mediators Michael Maurizio, Treva O’Neil, Casey Parker, and Webb Smith.
The First Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Family Mediation Program is one of the programs DRI administers on behalf of the circuit. This program assists the court in meeting the needs of required mediation in family cases. In 2006, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 905 was adopted requiring each judicial circuit to establish a program to provide mediation services to contested cases regarding parental responsibility, parenting time, and relocation cases before the cases may go to trial. There were already Illinois circuits providing these mediation services, but under the authority of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 99, Mediation Programs. The first circuit has adopted Local Rule 7.2, which outlines the requirements of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 905 and establishes a mandatory circuit-wide mediation program of all contested cases.
DRI began to administer the First Circuit Pro Bono Family Mediation Program when its doors opened in 2009. This program provides free mediation services to families moving through divorce or parental allocation/parenting time cases. This program was originally housed at Southern Illinois University School of Law until the closure of its ADR Program in 2009. When housed at SIU, both parties to mediation were required to be at an income level to qualify for free mediation services. When DRI began administering the program, it was able to expand its services to require only one party to meet the income requirements. A sliding scale fee is in place for those who are above our income requirements, and any fees collected goes to DRI to assist in management of its programs. This allowed us to address the access-to-justice issue that would arise in cases such as a divorce where one partner worked in the home and one partner worked outside of the home. Denying a party access to free mediation just because his or her partner did not qualify was something DRI wanted to remedy.
When a case is referred to DRI for mediation, DRI staff collects court documents and required paperwork from the parties or their attorneys. Once the file is complete, a member of DRI staff will contact each party by phone to do a prescreening session. During this conversation, staff verifies the party’s contact and income information. Staff will explain the mediation process to each party and answer any questions he or she may have on the process. Finally, these calls include a domestic violence screening to ensure we can either safely arrange the mediation or request the court to waive the mediation if an impediment to mediation has surfaced. Once the prescreening is complete and any fees due are paid, staff will contact our volunteer mediators to schedule the mediation. In addition, DRI staff will assist the mediator throughout the process if he or she needs more information and will e-file the mediator report with the court.
This program allows mediators to complete pro bono mediations to satisfy the first circuit’s requirement to complete four reduced rate or pro bono mediations per year to be listed on the family mediator list. Many of the mediators on the first circuit family mediator list serves as a volunteer mediator for DRI, including every member of the DRI staff and several members of the board of directors. DRI strives to make pro bono mediation as easy on a volunteer mediator as possible. By doing all this pre-mediation work, the mediator, or his or her staff, does not have to do any prescreening and the mediator can just focus on doing the mediation.
Over the past nine years, DRI has been ordered an average of 90 to 100 family mediation cases per year. This amount of pro bono cases would be a burden on the court and local mediators if DRI were not available to provide our services. DRI is able to provide these much needed services to the circuit through the gracious support of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation. Additionally, the circuit saw the need for DRI’s services to be so vital to southern Illinois that in 2009 DRI became the First Circuit Dispute Resolution Center. Under the Illinois Not-For-Profit Dispute Resolution Center Act (710 ILCS 20), a dispute resolution fund fee of $1 is collected from required cases and the funds are distributed to the local dispute resolution center. Finally, funding for the program also comes from money raised through fundraisers and trainings.
Since the retirement of Rudasill in December 2016, Missy Greathouse has served as the executive director. Greathouse is a licensed attorney, mediator, trainer, and social worker. Greathouse provides an average of 40 to 50 pro bono family mediations, as mediator or co-mediator with a mediator in training, to the first circuit per year. She serves as secretary of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section Council, and as Southern Illinois Regional chair of the American Bar Association’s committee, Women in Dispute Resolution. She received her B.S.S.W. from Saint Louis University in 2003, and her J.D. from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 2008.
Those interested in being a pro bono mediator are encouraged to call DRI for assistance in finding local pro bono mediation opportunities throughout the state.