The Eighth Judicial Circuit’s ADR/Mediation program provides “on the spot” mediation services free of charge to small claims litigants in Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Levy and Union Counties at the time of their scheduled pre-trial conference. Small claims meditations ordered in Gilchrist County may take place on a different date. In addition, program mediators provide mediation services in county court cases for a modest fee. No fee is assessed for eviction cases or for litigants who have been determined indigent. County mediation is governed by Section 44.108, Florida Statutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process where a neutral person meets with parties in dispute and assists them with resolving their issues. It is an informal process, with the objective of helping the parties reach a voluntary agreement. The parties have complete decision-making authority. The mediator may assist the parties to identify issues, foster joint problem solving, and explore settlement alternatives, but the mediator will not make any decisions for the parties.
How much does mediation cost?
Mediation services are provided at no cost to small claims litigants. In most cases, a mediator is available at the pre-trial conference, making a second visit to the courthouse unnecessary. Litigants in county cases above small claims who choose to use the court program are required to pay a fee of $60.00 per person, per scheduled session. These fees are collected by the Clerk of the Court and must be paid prior to the mediation. No mediation fee is assessed to litigants who are determined to be indigent or for residential eviction cases. Mediation fees charged by private mediators, i.e. those not connected with the Court’s program, are set by each individual mediator. A complete list of private mediators for the Eighth Judicial Circuit is available on the Florida State Courts website.
Please note that any rescheduling to accommodate a party’s or an attorney’s schedule must take place by mutual consent, however, parties will be charged for that session as well as any rescheduled sessions.
How does small claims mediation work?
Small Claims Court is where a party sues another party for an amount under $5,000.00. The first court meeting is called a pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial conference, the judge requires the parties to mediate if the parties in the case are present, and if the defendant does not agree to the claim as filed. There is no charge to litigants in small claims meditations. Because mediation usually takes place at the pre-trial conference, parties should come to court prepared to spend the time necessary to mediate their case, usually one to two hours.
On the day of the pre-trial conference, all parties will appear before the judge at the scheduled place and time. There can be many cases scheduled for the same pre-trial docket, so you may have to wait a while for your case to be called. When your case is called, the judge will ask the defendant whether the claim is admitted or denied. If the claim is denied, the judge will order the parties to mediation.
How does county court mediation work?
County court cases are those in which the principal amount of the claim filed is between $5,000.00 and $15,000.00. Before setting a case for trial, the judge may require that the parties attempt to resolve the issues through mediation. Parties in county court cases may use court mediation or hire a private mediator. Parties wishing to use the court should contact the ADR Administrative Assistant at (352) 491-4417.
Who are the Mediators?
Small Claims Mediators are citizens certified by the Florida Supreme Court and who volunteer their time and talent to mediate in the county courts of Florida. Mediators are trained professionals and most have years of experience in mediating disputes. A list mediators can be found here.
What happens in mediation?
The mediator will begin by explaining the mediation process. Each party will then have the opportunity to tell the other side their views of the issues in dispute. After this, the mediator will help the parties discuss these issues in an effort to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. The mediator may meet with individual parties or with the group as a whole in discussing the issues. If a total or partial agreement is reached, the parties will sign a written agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Clerk will assist the parties with scheduling a trial date.
Each mediation session is governed by a set of rules created by the Florida Supreme Court.
- The mediator is neutral, with no personal or financial interest in the case.
- Mediators do not provide legal or personal advice.
- Each party attending the mediation should have authority and complete discretion to negotiate a settlement of the case without asking any other person.
- The mediator will explain the procedures and rules of conduct during the mediation conference.
- The mediator may meet privately with each party. Upon a party’s request, the mediator will keep information private.
- The conference is confidential and information given in mediation cannot be used as evidence in a hearing or trial.
- The parties determine the terms of any agreement reached, with the mediator documenting that agreement in writing.
What are the advantages of mediation?
Through mediation, parties can develop their own solution and avoid a stressful and potentially costly trial.
- Parties remain in control.
- Parties take an active part in their case.
- Immediate resolution
- No trial
- Less court visits
- No witness expense
- Less formal than court
- Lower costs
- Preserves relationships
Mediation preserves personal and business relationships and protects privacy by avoiding a public trial. Those owing money can establish by agreement the amount owed, arrange repayment plans, avoid a judgment and preserve their credit reputation. When the parties settle, the case is over – no more court.
Where can I get more information?
Eighth Judicial Circuit staff in the Self-Help Center can help with questions about court procedures. In some cases, you may want to consider consulting an attorney, even if you feel you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in your case. A one-hour consultation can provide a substantial amount of information and can relieve some anxiety about both the process and the chances of success in your case. Mediators are not allowed to give any legal advice, so any information about the legal aspects of your case must be determined by information you get from other sources.