(BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, July 6, 2017) — The Circuit Court for Baltimore City, in an effort to improve access to justice for litigants involved in criminal misdemeanor cases, recently launched a new mediation pilot program presided over by Circuit Judge Edward R. K. Hargadon. Mediation will be offered for certain misdemeanor cases related to a variety of dispute types including neighborhood, business, family, and landlord/tenant disputes, at no cost to litigants, through the Baltimore Community Mediation Center. Firearms, narcotics, and domestic violence cases are not eligible for mediation.
“The Judiciary is committed to developing innovative programs that enhance access to justice throughout the state,” said Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. “Judge Hargadon’s pilot program demonstrates our vision to be an accessible court system that works collaboratively with our justice partners to provide efficient, effective, and fair justice for all Marylanders.”
The mission of the mediation pilot program is to assist litigants with resolving criminal misdemeanor cases in approximately 30 days without going to trial. The program is a collaborative effort of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, the Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO), the Public Defender’s Office, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, and Baltimore Community Mediation Center. Mediation provides an opportunity to resolve many disputes permanently and effectively, avoiding perpetuation and even escalation of disputes as may occur even if a case proceeds to trial. Through the appropriate utilization of mediation, courts are able to manage overburdened dockets more effectively.
Baltimore Community Mediation Center’s partner sites throughout the city will host mediation sessions to ensure accessibility for litigants. Parties of lesser misdemeanor cases may receive a third-party referral to participate in the program, but participation is voluntary. Discussions during mediation sessions will be considered confidential and will not be disclosed during future court proceedings.
“This program provides litigants the opportunity to address issues related to cases on their own accord without relying on criminal justice resources,” said W. Michel Pierson, Administrative Judge for the Eighth Judicial Circuit (Baltimore City). “Helping litigants reach mediated agreements reduces the time and cost associated with trials, resulting in improved efficiency within the court and better outcomes for the parties involved in the dispute.”
Judge Hargadon developed the concept of a mediation program for circuit court cases involving misdemeanors after attending a mediation skills training course in late 2016. Although the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office currently offers mediation to some defendants in the misdemeanor cases that remain in the District Court’s jurisdiction, until now, mediation has not been available for defendants and victims in cases transferred to the Circuit Court as a result of a prayer (request) for a jury trial. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2015, more than 10,000 jury trials have been prayed, according to the Judiciary’s database of trial and appellate courts caseload and performance data.
“Mediation gives litigants involved in lesser misdemeanor cases another option in resolving legal issues. Jury trials are time consuming and expensive to the parties and the court, and, in many cases, a verdict on a criminal charge does nothing to address an underlying dispute. This program encourages litigants to be proactive about developing solutions that keep cases from returning to court with subsequent criminal charges,” said Judge Hargadon.