Wausau Pilot & Review
Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing email@example.com.
This week’s featured Wausau business is Judicare Mediation Services, a local agency that provides mediation in non-criminal cases, such as small claims, eviction and seizure actions. Wisconsin Judicare, Inc. provides free legal services to low-income citizens in Wisconsin’s northern counties and federally recognized Native American tribes who are faced with civil legal issues. This specific service, which launched in 2017 as a partnership with the Marathon County Court system, is designed to help relieve the court system of cases primarily involving pro-se litigants – that is, those who can’t afford an attorney – before they reach the courts. Mediation offers a chance for both sides to solve their issues without going to court, avoiding an often complex system that can be difficult to navigate. At the same time, mediation can prevent adding to the case backlog that is already plaguing the local court system. Wisconsin Judicare Inc. Executive Director Beth Ann Richlen provides leadership for the mediation team, while Marathon County Judge Gregory Strasser serves as the court liaison. There are more than 25 volunteer mediators involved, with a new volunteer training session set for November. Randy Westgate, Director of Judicare Mediation Services, shared his thoughts on the organization and what it accomplishes, along with details for interested volunteers. Here’s what Randy had to say.
Q: When was this service established, and what prompted its start?
A: Established in 2017 by Marathon County judges, Judicare Mediation Services provides mediation in small claims, eviction and replevin actions, and other court ordered cases. Most litigants in these cases can’t afford an attorney to represent them and face a court system they don’t understand. Mediation gives parties the opportunity to settle cases with help before trial or hearing.
To provide free services, Judicare relies on volunteer mediators to conduct mediations after undergoing a forty hour training session. We’re offering a new training session for volunteers this November by zoom to handle expanded services in Marathon County and the planned expansion to surrounding counties. Interested people can contact Judicare for an application at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 715-842-1681. The time commitment is flexible.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing?
A: Working with the judges and Marathon County to establish an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to county citizens free of charge. Mediation helps people who may be very vulnerable, navigate the court system and access a process where they can control the outcome. Mediators do not give legal advice, take sides, or impose a solution. They assist in finding a resolution acceptable to everyone by clarifying concerns and encouraging discussions. They write-down any resolution agreement to file with the court and the case is dismissed but agreements can be enforced in court if not followed. The process saves the system money by reducing court time, freeing judges and court personnel to address other cases.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome?
A: The pandemic seriously affected the court system because courts had to conduct trials and hearings virtually. Judicare reacted by establishing virtual mediations with zoom sessions and software to create agreements and sign documents online. The new mediation alternative has proved very successful and has kept mediation as a strong alternative even during difficult times.
Q: What does the future hold for Judicare in Wisconsin?
A: Judicare is dedicated to providing legal services to low income people in the northern 32 counties in Wisconsin. Access to justice is a big issue in these rural areas and affects many people who can’t afford an attorney or qualify for attorney appointment. There is also a lack of attorneys practicing in northern Wisconsin. Judicare looks to supplement attorney appointment with strong mediation services to address the problem.
The pandemic has forced Judicare to add virtual mediation to our services but this also allows us to reach counties where travel distances prevent in person mediation. Our goal is to create a system for all counties to offer free mediation and alternative dispute resolution.