How Mediation Services Began in Jefferson County, Colorado

In 1993, Jefferson County’s population was growing, especially in the mountains. Suzanne Bierbrauer, then director of Jefferson County Animal Control, was noticing repeated calls from the same people about the same dogs. She had heard about Boulder’s mediation program, and asked, “Why not us?”

Mark Loye had been the Aggregate Coordinator (instrumental in licensing mines and gravel pits) for Jeffco since 1987, and had done a lot of mediation and facilitation in that capacity.

Brian Boatwright was a Deputy District Attorney who was interested in the idea of mediation in Jeffco, because he saw many cases going to court that could have been settled earlier.

The County Commissioners appointed these three people as a committee to check out the possibilities, and Loye headed the committee. They began talking to people in other community mediation programs, such as Kon Damas in Boulder. The committee proposed to begin a mediation program, and to incorporate Mediation Services into Loye’s job, as one-quarter of his responsibilities.

Enter a new administration, which didn’t see the need for the Aggregate Coordinator position, and de-funded the job. They offered Loye a contract at 40 hours per month to develop and coordinate a new community mediation program. This contract included office space and a phone. To buy a computer and fund training for 10 mediators, Loye spoke to D.A. Dave Thomas and Sheriff Ron Beckham, each of whom contributed $5,000. Loye also spoke to Tom Giacinti, then Director of Community Corrections, as that seemed the most logical department to include mediation, because it was working to keep people out of the formal justice/ incarceration system.

Loye cut a deal with CDR Associates in Boulder for a group training in November-December 1993. He placed ads in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News asking for volunteer mediators. He selected 10 people with prior mediation experience, and 10 people who needed training. One was a Spanish speaker, and one was a wheelchair user, establishing early on a policy of encouraging diversity among the mediators. Based on the varied experience of the volunteers, he chose the co-mediation model, so that new mediators could learn from those who knew the ropes. That model continues in use today as an important feature of the program.

During that same period, Loye handled 3 cases for various county agencies, to demonstrate the benefits of mediation.

Susan Rumley, of Human Services, knew someone who had been laid off by the aerospace industry, and thus Ed Hollingshead came on board, bringing his own computer. He designed the first database – an Excel spreadsheet.

Mediation Services Program (MSP) opened in January of 1994 and handled 69 cases that year – mostly neighbor cases. Giacinti provided more funds, so that Loye could work more hours.

In November of 1995, MSP began serving Small Claims court at the request of Magistrates Jeffrey English and John Livingston, who were 3 weeks behind on their dockets. A few months into 1996, the backlog had been completely eliminated. Their clerk, Karen Hamm, was instrumental in the transition.

The MSP was well and truly launched, and thrives to this day as Jefferson County Mediation Services (JCMS), currently serving over 30 county agencies, courts, municipalities and non-profits. JCMS now takes an ever-expanding variety of case types, handled by over 250 volunteer mediators, and accepted over 1,550 cases in 2014. That’s quite a testament to the power of mediation!