WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTY- In the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, mediators have been saving the courts time and money by helping people achieve mutual agreements in their cases for more than 20 years.

Carol Dunaway, Director of Mediation Programs for the 14th Judicial Circuit, said the program started in Bay County over 20 years ago.

“What was once a small program in Bay County serving just a few judges has expanded greatly over the years, serving multiple judges throughout the circuit,” Dunaway said.

In the family and dependency divisions, mediators are both staff and contract mediators. All have gone through 40 hours of specialized training, mentored under a certified mediator, and eventually become certified by the Florida Supreme Court. In our county court division, mediators are both staff and volunteers. You read that right; volunteers! For over 20 years the courts have relied on trained volunteers to mediate the lion’s share of county cases in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit.

County volunteers are provided 20 hours of basic mediation training and then paired with more senior mediators to learn how to actively listen, facilitate conversations, resolve disputes, and how to accurately complete paperwork. They don’t make decisions for the parties, they help parties find middle ground while maintaining control over the process. The overall success rate is quite high, in the range of 65 - 75% in the county division. With that kind of success rate, the program has become an invaluable part of the court system.

Washington County Judge Colby Peel states “Since we started the program here in 2011, mediation has allowed hundreds of Washington County residents to resolve their cases on their own terms in an inexpensive and efficient manner.”

Dunaway said mediators find the process very rewarding.

“I have been a mediator for over 12 years and mediated thousands of cases, each one unique and different from the next, but one thing is consistent, people just want to be heard and want to have an opportunity to tell their version of their story,” Dunaway said. “Peacemaking and problem solving is one of the many rewards a mediator enjoys."

The Fourteenth Circuit is currently pre-qualifying applicants to attend the free Supreme Court approved training in Panama City from January 28- 31, 2020 from 8:30 am- 3:30 pm each day.

For more information, please contact Carol Dunaway at 850-718-0027 or countymediation@jud14.flcourts.org