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Cutbacks impact South County’s justice center

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Cost cutting at the county level has taken a toll on the Southshore Community Justice Center.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Cost cutting at the county level has taken a toll on the Southshore Community Justice Center here.

The 12-year-old center providing free mediation services to residents and businesses interested in settling disputes outside the courtroom will not be staffed after June.

However, mediation sessions are expected to continue on a monthly basis at the current location in the SouthShore Regional Service Center on 30th Street, north of the SunPoint plaza.

While current economic conditions have forced adjustments in the center’s operation, some factors are expected to remain unchanged, emphasized Kim Joyner-Diaz, diversion and resolutions director in Hillsborough’s 13th Judicial Circuit.

Mediations conducted by trained local volunteer mediators will be held at the same site, the form initiating a session will continue to be available on the center’s website or in response to a telephone inquiry, the process involved in bringing disputing parties together remains unchanged and the center’s accustomed telephone number is to be kept, Joyner-Diaz said.

Beginning in July, the Southshore center will function as the community justice facility in Plant City always has, she added. Once a mediation has been initiated by an individual citizen or a business operator involved in any of a range of disputes, the “10 day letter” giving other parties involved that span of time for response will be issued from mediation services in Tampa and all parties notified in connection with a scheduled mediation in the South County.

The types of civil matters that community mediators trained in conflict resolution oversee can relate to contract, landlord-tenant, money owed and employee-employer disputes. In addition, family conflicts, homeowner-HOA disagreements and consumer complaints are heard by the mediators. Some misdemeanor criminal matters also may be appropriate for mediation.

The advantages of mediation, rather than courtroom litigation, include such factors as attorneys are not required, conferences can be held day or evening, the parties together reach the resolution, confidentiality is maintained and the service is free of charge.

The simple, one-page form required can be downloaded from the 13th judicial circuit website – www.FLJUD13.org – by searching for Southshore CJC on the left side of the page, selecting from the menu listed on the following page and clicking on Forms at the left of the Southshore page that then is produced.

In July and thereafter, calls to the center’s telephone number – 813-672-7442 - will be forwarded automatically to mediation services in Tampa and answered by personnel there during standard business hours, Joyner-Diaz said. The center’s new fax number, after July 1, will be 813-301-3705.

The Southshore justice center was established in 1999 with a two-year grant from the Dispute Resolution Center in Tallahassee and first headquartered in the Riverview Chamber of Commerce offices. When the state grant expired, the 13th judicial circuit in Hillsborough County took over sponsorship and the center subsequently was relocated to the Ruskin Neighborhood Services Center on 14th Avenue S.E. Ultimately, in December, 2005, the center moved into Suite 110 at county government’s regional service center, 410 30th Street S.E.

At that point, with greater visibility and accommodating space, “referrals and requests increased dramatically” as both Hillsborough’s small claims courts and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office began to funnel South County matters suited to mediation to it, according to the center’s website pages. In its first 10 years, the Southshore center’s successful settlement rate was pegged at 77 percent, or more than three quarters of its cases.

Salaried part-time staff for the Southshore center has included Joan Noble as coordinator and Sharon Applegate as office manager. Office hours through June remain 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Despite the cutbacks, Joyner-Diaz asserted, “it is important to note that mediations still will be going on” in South Hillsborough County, through the judicial circuit’s mediation services based in Tampa.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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