A life skill

13 Rutgers students sworn in as municipal mediators

Rutgers students will serve as mediators in municipal courts in Hudson County.
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Rutgers students will serve as mediators in municipal courts in Hudson County.

In an effort to help reduce the number of mediation cases between disputing parties in Hudson County Municipal Courts, 13 students from Rutgers University in Newark have been sworn-in as mediators by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso, Jr.

“The judiciary values volunteers who devote their time and build a bridge between the courts and the community,” said Cariann Gingerelli, assistant court manager.

In municipal court mediation, a court-appointed volunteer intervenes in cases as a neutral party and helps citizens discuss the issues and explore ways they can resolve the dispute themselves.

“Having trained Rutgers volunteers is one of the ways that Jersey City can continue to tackle the high volume of cases while meeting the needs of the community to have personal and efficient resolution to conflicts,” said Wendy Razzoli, municipal court director.

The students are part of a course being taught by Professor Karen DeSoto. She serves as a municipal judge and previously served as co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution in New Jersey City University in Jersey City.

The program seeks concerned residents to take part in administering justice and delivering quality court services in the community. Volunteers may serve through a variety of programs designed to engage the public in providing critical services and making important decisions that affect juveniles, families and the community at large.

How it works

It is through the municipal courts that most citizens interact with the judicial system, either as a complainant, a defendant, a victim, or a witness. The Municipal Court Mediation (MCM) program provides court users in nearly all municipalities with an alternative to having certain cases heard and decided by a judge in traditional litigation. Endorsed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, municipal courts refer cases involving “minor disputes” to be handled through the mediation process.

Mediation is a structured, non-adversarial process that allows a neutral third party to assist disputing parties in reaching a mutually acceptable solution. The mediation process can be a less expensive, informal, and a more meaningful alternative to the traditional trial process, largely because of the efforts of trained volunteers and the resolution being decided by the participants.

Community members are recruited, carefully screened, trained, and appointed as court volunteers to mediate cases of minor dispute. Basic mediation and conciliation training (an 18-hour course) is required of all volunteers prior to appointment.

The types of cases handled through the intervention of a trained mediator include, but are not limited to: simple assaults that do not include personal injury, trespass, harassment, creating a disturbance, animal or pet complaints, annoying phone calls, property disputes, non-payment of bills, bad checks, and criminal mischief.

On average, volunteer mediators devote between two and six hours per month.

For the Rutgers students, who come from municipalities in and outside Hudson County, this a piece of a college course that also provides them with experience that they may use later in the career paths they choose to follow.

The students

Shawn Slappy, a resident of Newark, said this is part of his course work, providing him with hands-on experience.

“This is good experience for me in civil cases,” he said. He hopes to go to law school for an eventual career as an attorney.

Thomas Crehan, a resident of Manalapan, said the experience gives him insight into some aspects of the law. He said he intends to follow a career in federal law enforcement.

Camila Dominguez of West New York also aspires to become an attorney.

“I see this as a way of getting experience in a court room setting,” she said.

Olivia Dlugosz, a resident of Garfield, said the course is part of a master’s program, and while she may not be seeking like others to take up a career in law, she said this is good life experience. She said she would like to get into medicine, but sees mediation as a tool for dealing with people.

Bethany Peacock, from Michigan, said she is looking to get involved with social work, and that understanding the criminal justice system is vital.

“This will help me to talk to kids and be aware of where they are coming from,” she said.

Mediation will allow her to find common ground, and understand the circumstances people are in.

“This not about accusing someone, it is about talking to them and listening to them,” she said.

Emily Boodoo, of Bogota, intends to go to law school, and see this as giving her court experience. “I see mediation as helping me,” she said.

Chelsea Scott of Sayville N.Y. intends to follow a career in business law.

“Mediation will teach me how to deal with people,” she said. “While people may not be involved with criminal justice, you need to learn strategies for dealing with them.”

Daniel Hernandez of Hawthorne said he intends to become a criminal investigator.

“This means talking to a lot of people, and I think mediation can help me,” he said.

Madisyn Miller, from south Jersey, hopes to become a counselor, helping deal with young people.

“I think that will require the same skills as I will learn as a mediator,” she said.

Sarah Elgalad, of Northvale, is seeking a master’s degree in public administration, and is looking to get experienced in conflict resolution.

“Mediation provides good tools, and this will give me experience in court,” she said.

Judge Bariso told the Rutgers students that mediation can be difficult, but it is also rewarding. He said the skills learned in mediation can apply to any aspect of life.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com