Dispute Resolution Program Offers Virtual Services During Pandemic

Modified: July 31, 2020 9:51am

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Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that the Community Dispute Resolution Program (CDR) in Buffalo City Court continues to serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The diversion program, launched in July 2019, provides an alternative to criminal proceedings to resolve issues between parties by facilitating conversations between a complainant and defendant with a neutral third party to identify issues, clarify perceptions, and explore options for an acceptable resolution.

The Community Dispute Resolution Program aims to reduce the number of low-level criminal cases in Buffalo City Court by resolving disputes through mediation and conflict coaching. The Erie County DA’s Office, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, and Child & Family Services Center for Resolution and Justice developed the program that was implemented by the Center for Resolution and Justice (CRJ) in Buffalo City Court. Funding for the program was provided by the New York State Unified Court System to support court-based Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Referrals to the program are made by the assistant district attorney or defense attorney upon request of either party or during plea negotiations in a qualifying criminal case. Once referred to the CDR program, each party will connect with a CRJ representative to discuss the issue and learn more about the program.

The screening process allows each party to explain their side of the issue with an unbiased mediator who will recommend the appropriate services for each party. If both parties commit to proceed in mediation, a joint two-hour mediation session is scheduled. With the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator, the two parties will discuss the conflict, consider options for moving forward, and ultimately reach a resolution deemed acceptable for both parties.

If either party declines to participate in mediation or a restriction is found during the screening process, a conflict coaching session may be scheduled for the individual party. Conflict coaching is a one-on-one meeting with a trained coach who will work to increase the party’s understanding of the conflict, address decision-making for future interactions, and teach conflict resolution skills specific to the individual. This service can be used as a standalone service or in preparation for mediation.

The services provided by the Community Dispute Resolution Program are free, voluntary, and confidential. The program aims to support parties in resolving issues, encourage participants to strategize steps for positive interactions, and reduce future conflicts.

Eligible Cases for Community Dispute Resolution Program:

  • Cases including, but not limited to, harassment, criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, menacing, noise complaints, minor assaults, and property damage.
  • Cases where parties are going to have an ongoing relationship such as family, colleagues, former friends, neighbors, etc.
  • Cases where there is considerable law enforcement or criminal court history of ongoing conflict with the role of “victim” and “offender” often changing with the particular filing.
  • Cases where anger management may have been raised during the plea conversation.

Cases Restricted from Participation:

  • Domestic violence matters
  • No-contact orders of protection involving the parties
  • Allegations of child abuse, neglect, or any case that poses a danger to a child

Potential Results for Participation:

  • An agreement is reached between parties, and the dismissal of the case is requested.
  • An agreement is reached between parties, the dismissal of the case is requested, and the parties enter into a private agreement regarding future conduct, restitution, communication, etc.
  • An agreement is reached between parties, and the case is adjourned in contemplation of dismissal (ACD), or ACD with the following possible conditions: restitution or an order of protection.
  • A conflict coaching session is held and participation is considered in disposition.
  • No agreement is reached, the referral report will be submitted to the court, and the case will proceed on the criminal calendar.

Over the past year, there have been a total of 13 cases referred to the Community Dispute Resolution Program. Of the 13 cases, six cases resulted in at least one party’s participation in a CDR service. Two of those six cases were mediations, resulting in full agreements. The other four cases resulted in conflict coaching sessions. For the remaining cases, there were three cases where one or more parties declined services, individuals did not appear in two cases, one case is pending, and the program was unable to make contact in one case. 

Since mid-March, the program has held approximately 140 virtual sessions for a variety of case types. This was especially helpful to the parties involved, attorneys, and the courts that were paused for all but essential matters for a period of time due to the pandemic. The procedures remain the same, but with some adjustments to address virtual challenges and conditions.