November 28, 2008
Introducing Foreclosure Mediation
~ written by Terri B. Gregori, Chair, Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee
No one is a stranger anymore to the plague of foreclosures in our neighborhoods. If you have not had a client or friend or family member involved in the residential mortgage crisis, then you likely pass one or more homes every day that sits empty waiting for the foreclosure system to deal it a destiny. While those on Wall Street managed to avoid brutal confrontation of this disease until recently, our communities have been struggling for more than a year with the ever increasing number of homes falling into delinquency and foreclosure. In 2007, foreclosure actions filed in Franklin County approximated 9,000. Through August of 2008, the number reached 7,000.
A year ago, conversations began in search of possible solutions to this crisis in our area. Even then, the number of community agencies and organizations participating in the dialogue was impressive and that number has grown. Rest assured, the residential mortgage crisis in Franklin County has been met with a come-together sense of community among governmental, public service and private sector organizations unlike most any other financial crisis in our past. With respect to court-sponsored programs specifically, our Ohio Supreme Court led the charge by designing the Foreclosure Mediation Program Model published earlier this year. By distributing this model program to courts across the state, the Supreme Court strongly urged the use of mediation as one very important tool to assist in this crisis.
Even with a model program, real solutions to big problems do not come easy or fast, including mediation programs. It has taken tremendous time and relentless hours of commitment by so many people and factions, but we can all begin to breathe a little easier. In Franklin County, the sun is rising over the wasteland of residential mortgage foreclosures. Over the next few months, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas will begin to phase in a meticulously planned and meaningful mediation program to assist lenders and borrowers in finding alternative resolutions to traditional foreclosure. The common pleas program is being coordinated in conjunction with the Franklin County Homeowner Helpline, just recently announced, which is a collaborative effort of the Franklin County Commissioners, Treasurer and Prosecutor to assist homeowners in trouble with a multi-faceted approach. Just one of these approaches is to refer appropriate matters to the common pleas court mediation program.
With last minute details being tweaked, most aspects of the program are completed. The common pleas court has thoughtfully chosen to implement its mediation program through the long-established and flourishing Dispute Resolution Program of the Franklin County Municipal Court. Not only will the common pleas program handle referrals but, more globally, notices of the availability of mediation will be sent from the clerk's office to homeowners with their summons and complaint in foreclosure. The program will build flexibility into the traditional case schedule for foreclosures by incorporating rules concerning extensions of time to answer and agreed entries for other extensions when more time is needed for mediation. The program also intends to make available attorneys to provide representation to homeowners for the limited purposes of mediation. There is expected to be a program coordinator who will oversee the administration and scheduling of all mediations. The program designers estimate the ability to process about 1,600 mediations a year. With respect to quality, all mediators providing services through the common pleas program will be required at minimum to have completed the 12 hours basic mediation training as well as the Ohio Supreme Court foreclosure mediation training and Uniform Mediation Act training.