On October 6, the Dispute Resolution Center of Harris County (DRC) will mark 30 years of giving Houstonians greater access to justice without resorting to litigation in the courts. Originally called the Neighborhood Justice Center, the DRC was established by the Houston Bar Association in 1980 to provide conflict resolution assistance to residents of Harris County through education, referral and alternative dispute resolution, particularly for those who might not otherwise have access to those services.
The DRC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, is funded through a contract between the Houston Bar Association and Harris County, which uses a portion of the filing fees for civil cases for alternative dispute resolution programs. Services are provided at no cost to the participating parties.
The DRC provides several types of mediation services, including:
• community-based mediation for disputes between neighbors, landlord/ tenant problems, consumer/merchant issues and similar problems, including those referred by justice of the peace courts;
• family mediation for cases referred by family law attorneys and the family courts;
• a litigation program for cases referred from civil, probate, appellate and federal courts, utilizing tools such as mediation, arbitration and moderated settlement conferences;
• a juvenile mediation program for cases referred by law enforcement, the juvenile courts and juvenile probation;
• a special education mediation program for cases referred by schools and the Texas Education Agency;
• a victim/offender restitution program;
• a truancy mediation program involving students, parents and school representatives.
Mediations are conducted by volunteers who have been through a 40-hour training program, many of whom are attorneys, retired executives or teachers. Residents can call the DRC directly for services, and referrals also come through the courts, law enforcement and other community agencies.
Through a "multi-door" intake process, the DRC handled over 63,000 telephone calls in 2009, provided intake for 4,800 new cases, and conducted 2,800 mediations, with a settlement rate of 61 percent and a participant satisfaction rate of over 95 percent. Volunteers logged over 10,000 hours mediating through various DRC programs.
"The Dispute Resolution Center has for three decades given people the opportunity to solve their problems without the time and expense involved in a lawsuit," said T. Mark Kelly, president of the Houston Bar Association. "The DRC can help neighbors resolve disputes without resorting to violence, help keep families together, and give both consumers and vendors a neutral venue to work out differences. The DRC represents a win-win situation for all participants."
The DRC conducts mediations at its downtown administrative office as well as several locations throughout Harris County.
For information on services, call the DRC at (713) 755-8274 or visit the website, www.drchouston.org.