The judge wants to use nonlawyers in resolving cases.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge Timothy P. Maloney of Mahoning County Probate Court has created a special fund to pay a mediator to try to resolve issues and disputes that arise in probate matters.
Judge Maloney said Tuesday the state Legislature has allowed probate judges to establish procedures to resolve disputes that fall within the probate court's jurisdiction.
"Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them," Judge Maloney said.
Mahoning County commissioners were to approve a resolution establishing the dispute resolution fund at their meeting today.
The position would be similar to the mediator in the general division of the county's common courts. Attorney Richard Blair works to resolve civil cases, thereby cutting down on the caseloads of the five trial judges.
Creating the fund
Judge Maloney has amended his court's local rules to create the fund, in which an additional $15 fee will be charged against all open cases or proceedings pending and brought before the court on or after April 9, 2004.
The fee becomes effective Aug. 1. The judge said in his court order the additional money is required to "establish and maintain mediation through dispute resolution procedures" the court has established.
Probate filings and proceedings excluded from the fee are correction of births, birth registrations, marriage license applications, name changes, commitments for mental health or mental retardation, and any matter pertaining to the registration of a bonding company.
In addition, where an estate filing is made, the fee also may be assessed against one wrongful death application under each case filed, he said.
The judge's order says he reserves the right to waive or assess the fee as he deems applicable and appropriate. The fee won't be charged or collected in any indigent filing unless directed by the judge.
Appointing a mediator
Judge Maloney said he can appoint anyone to serve as a mediator to resolve disputes, most of which involve will contests, guardianships, and exceptions to inventory and appraisal reports. The judge will review settlements of all disputed cases.
"I will probably start out with referrals from a mediation service," Judge Maloney said, but he also will seek advice from the general division on potential mediators.
"In most instances, the mediator will be a nonlawyer," the judge said. "This person will listen and attempt to work out a settlement, which will then be reviewed by the court."
The mediator will be able to "command appearance of the interested parties and any other person, firm or corporation" the mediator deems necessary to resolve the dispute, Judge Maloney's order says.
The judge will set the mediator's fees.
He said his three magistrates have their hands full taking care of their rising caseloads.
It is hoped the mediator will be able to settle matters without a hearing, thus cutting down on the court's pending cases, he said.
Each party to any court case or proceeding may, individually or jointly, petition the court for dispute resolution and mediation for any given case. Judge Maloney also may order a particular case to dispute resolution or mediation.
The fees will be paid to the county treasurer and placed in a separate fund to be disbursed upon an order of Judge Maloney.
The judge said that at any time he determines there is a surplus within the resolution fund, he may issue an order to use that surplus for other appropriate judicial expenses.
The judge said he could augment his budget with the surplus if he doesn't use all the funds for mediation services. That could reduce the amount he asks for from the general fund, he added.