New mediation program hopes to reduce low-level criminal cases in Buffalo City Court

Jul 31, 2019

Buffalo legal officials have come together to relaunch a program that would offer mediation services that can be an alternative to criminal proceedings.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

The Community Dispute Resolution Program lost its state funding six years ago. The program is back due to grant money. Trained mediators will be volunteers to keep the cost of the program low.

Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah said the best thing they can do as litigators is help people resolve their own disputes.

“This is not a new or novel concept. This concept has been around forever. And our Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has issued a mandate that we have a mandate that we have alternative dispute resolutions in everything that we do. Criminal and civil,” Hannah said.

Child and Family Services Director Julie Loesch said there’s a new conflict coaching service available this time around.

“If one of the parties in the conflict does not want to participate, the person who did is sort of out of luck. They don’t have that person to have a conversation with,” Loesch said. “So now, we will have conflict coaching, which is a one on one service. We can work with one party to the conflict who wants to talk things out and develop a strategy who wants to work things out to avoid further problems.”

Mediation will take place outside of court in a less stressful environment. Referrals to the program will be made by the district attorney’s office.

There are certain cases that fall under the program (property damage, etc.) and others that do not (domestic violence):

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.

·No agreement is reached, in which case the referral report will be submitted to the court, and the case will proceed on the criminal calendar.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said this program will be an example for other cities to follow.

“Buffalo City Court, I can tell you because I travel all across the country,” Flynn said, “not only in New York State, Buffalo City Court is a leader in criminal justice innovation.”

Flynn says the program will allow them to save tax dollars by cutting back on the resources they would usually need if this program were not in place.

The program is started today.