RCK Member Joe McDonald introduced Jen Comiskey, Training Director and Juvenile Court Program Director for the Community Mediation Center. Ms. Comiskey is a graduate of Hendrix College in Arkansas and the University of Tennessee College of Law. She went to law school intending to go into the mediation field. She clearly has a passion for mediation.

Community Mediation Centers exist all over the United States and in many foreign countries. They are typically local organizations, with their structure and work focused on local needs.

CMC Knoxville has a staff of five, and usually about 30 to 40 active volunteers. The local CMC organization takes a problem-solving approach. Their view is that with help, people are usually capable of resolving their own disputes. They use a facilitative process, with both parties in the room at the same time, as opposed to the more typical formal civil legal dispute mediation process where a mediator shuffles back and forth between the rooms. The local CMC group, and Ms. Comiskey in particular, do a lot of work with the local Juvenile Court. Juvenile Court Judge Irwin has remarked that Knox County saves from $2,500 to $5,000 for each case successfully mediated by CMC.

Many CMC clients cannot afford an attorney. CMC tries to be user friendly, regardless of the parties’ resources. CMC frequently works pro bono.

Ms. Comiskey referred to CMC as an “off ramp” from the court system. The kinds of cases typically handled by CMC include:

• Domestic cases, particularly involving children;
• Juvenile Court matters, frequently involving never married parents;
• General Sessions Court, including landlord/tenant cases;
• Workplace issues, involving both coworkers and managers; and
• Elder family planning issues

CMC is heavily involved in mediator training. That is one of Ms. Comiskey’s areas of focus. CMC’s training efforts include working with the City of Knoxville on its community violence reduction initiative, developing a community peacekeeper toolkit.

The CMC approach in mediation is to try to take folks down a different path toward resolution of their issues. They try to give people what they need rather than choosing a winner or a loser. The mediator is a neutral there to help everyone, to facilitate open discussions, to focus on the future, not the past. In mediation, people have a voice to express things that they would not likely have or be able to discuss in court.

Common characteristics of mediators would include a desire to serve others, self-awareness, humility – that is, a mediator cannot impose their values or views on others. A mediator must be comfortable with high emotions, must be able to create and enforce boundaries, all while being respectful of the parties. Mediation is voluntary, it is intended to be a cooperative effort. There is a screening, safety planning component. Some problems may not be appropriate for mediation.

CMC conducts two kinds of training. For family mediation the program is 46 hours, and for civil mediation, 40 hours. The training is approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, and meets Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31, Mediator Requirements. The training costs in the neighborhood of $1,200, with a slightly increased fee for family mediation training. The fee is typically discounted if the mediator agrees to commit to a year of participating in the CMC program. The RCK Peace Committee provides funding for RCK members to participate in the mediation training.

Scribe: Dennis McClane