For years, many North Carolina community mediation centers have partnered with their local district attorneys and judges to make mediation available in North Carolinaís district criminal courts. These partnerships have been successful and many misdemeanor criminal cases have been settled to the partiesí satisfaction that might otherwise have required the effort and expense involved in a trial. The community mediation centers involved in these efforts are non-profit agencies, established pursuant to G.S. 7A-38.5, and are dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflict in North Carolina.
In 2006, the Dispute Resolution Commission was approached by three community mediation center directors who asked the Commission to assist them in developing a system for the certification and regulation of district criminal court mediators. That system, they suggested, should have statewide application; be modeled, at least to some extent, on existing certification rules and requirements for other court-based mediators; and be implemented pursuant to Supreme Court Rule and under the Dispute Resolution Commissionís umbrella. In making this request, they hoped to afford additional program credibility and enhance the stature of the mediators doing this important work. Judge Sanford Steelman established an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the request and named Frank C. Laney as chair.
The Committee considered the request during a series of meetings attended by representatives from community mediation centers, district attorneys, and district court judges. The Committee recommended to the Commission that proposed legislation be drafted that would create a system for statewide certification and regulation of district criminal court mediators. Moreover, since there was considerable variation among districts with regard to their program operations, the Committee suggested that uniform program rules might also be beneficial. Such rules, they suggested, would not only insure more consistent program operations in districts already mediating misdemeanor criminal cases, but also facilitate involvement of districts that were interested in offering this type of mediation, but had yet to do so. With the Commissionís approval, the Committee set about the task of drafting proposed legislation to certify and regulate district criminal court mediators and proposed Supreme Court Rules to implement certification and standardize program operations.
Legislation providing for statewide certification of district criminal court mediators, G.S. 7A-38.3D, was enacted by the General Assembly on July 31, 2007, and signed by the Governor on August 19, 2007. The North Carolina Supreme Court adopted Rules Implementing Mediation In Matters Pending In District Criminal Court on November 8, 2007. Both the legislation and Rules can be viewed at www.ncdrc.org. Forms have also been developed to implement mediator certification and it is expected that applicants will begin to apply for certification beginning in January of 2008. The new statute and rules do not compel judicial districts to offer district criminal court mediation or to follow the new program rules or certify mediators in accordance with them. However, the Commission hopes that judges, district attorneys and community mediation centers will see value in having statewide mediator certification and regulation and uniform program operations.