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Formed as the Neighborhood Justice Center 30 years ago, the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center uses trained mediators to settle minor disputes outside the courtroom. The center's David Chaumette says they handle all sorts of disputes, including landlord-tenant disagreements, problems with merchants, and family and juvenile issues, including truancy. Chaumette says one of the goals is to save taxpayers money by keeping minor disputes off already-crowded court dockets, and those involved in disputes can avoid big legal fees. "Just to file a lawsuit in Harris County can cost you a couple hundred dollars. And then you have attorneys' fees and other court costs, which can be thousands of dollars before you ever get to the courthouse."
Money from civil court filing fees is used to fund the program, and services are offered free of charge. Chaumette says the center got over 63-thousand calls in 2009. He says staff members handled many of those cases over the phone without having to conduct a formal mediation.
Audio for long-form interview