CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia State Bar's free magistrate court mediation program began in Kanawha County on Thursday.

Some of Kanawha County's 10 magistrates selected 16 civil cases in which litigants on both sides are representing themselves. Two cases have been continued, so 14 cases are scheduled for mediation.

Lawyers who have been through the State Bar's mediation training volunteered to handle the cases. Although all the mediators on Thursday were attorneys, the Bar plans to train non-lawyers to conduct mediation sessions in addition to lawyer mediators.

Mediation helps litigants reach a resolution without having to spend additional time and money. Mediators facilitate discussion but do not suggest outcomes or offer legal advice. Sessions are confidential; what is said there cannot later be used in court.

"A lot of these magistrate cases involve family members, or neighbors, orpeople who are going to have continuing relationships," said Teresa Dumire, a Morgantown attorney who is chairwoman of the Magistrate Court Mediation Subcommittee of the Bar's Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee. "It's beneficial for them to work out their problems on their own, to maintain that relationship."

Mediation is flexible. If all it takes to resolve a case is an apology, the case can end there.

Kanawha County court officials have not decided how often Magistrate Court mediation sessions will be held. They have been held monthly since 2002 in Monongalia County, the first county to offer Magistrate Court mediation.

Mediators there are usually students at West Virginia University's College of Law who have taken the Bar's mediation training.

Lawyers and law students also now offer Magistrate Court mediation in Marion and Harrison counties. There are plans to expand the program to Preston County.

The Bar also oversees a mediation program in Wood County operated by Ohio Valley University.

"West Virginia has been on the forefront of alternative dispute resolution," Dumire said. "For many years mediation in West Virginia has been an accepted and, in most circuits, required practice for all circuit court civil cases.

"Our goal is eventually having cases in Magistrate Court mediated in all counties. However, in some counties there just aren't that many cases filed. In those counties there's not that much of a need to have the docket relieved."

For more information on the Kanawha County Magistrate Court mediation program, call Kanawha County Court Manager Jimmy Thaxton at (304) 357-0388 or Teresa Dumire at (304) 296-1100.

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