County bar honors local volunteer mediator

Vikki Knifong

Vikki Knifong of Wallowa has been honored for her volunteer service as a small claims mediator for the Oregon Circuit Court. The award of a certificate and a framed photograph taken by Circuit Court Judge Eric Valentine was made during the regular monthly meeting of the Wallowa County Bar Association last Wednesday.

Over the last four years Knifong has taken on some 30 to 40 civil mediation cases where the dollar amount in dispute was less than $5,000. The purpose of the small claims mediation program is to negotiate settlements before a case has to go before a magistrate. Trial Court Administrator for Wallowa and Union counties John DeNault says that anywhere from 66 percent to 75 percent of such cases in his two counties are settled out of court.

DeNault prefers the mediation route toward a settlement both because it often precipitates a more amicable resolution and because it frees a little extra time for busy judges.

Knifong did not wish to speak very much about her honor, but did say that she enjoys the work that she does.

In 1998 five Wallowa County individuals attended four days of training, along with other volunteers from Baker and Union counties, to become volunteer small claims mediators. Though Ida Pacheco, Judy Wandschneider, Dan DeBoie and Karen McConaughey joined Knifong for that schooling, Knifong has taken on the bulk of Wallowa County's small claims civil mediation cases since that time.

November is National Mediation Month and the local bar association recognized three other local mediators as well. Attorneys, educators and professional mediators Sandra Purnell and Stephen Adams were recognized for over five years of mediation work in the counties. Among other things they mediate divorce cases, child custody cases and parenting time issues.

DeNault explained that a fee of $280 is charged when a divorce case is filed and $130 of that amount goes into a fund to hire professional mediation time. He said that the first six hours of mediation is provided free of charge to the divorcing couple.

The third attorney recognized for her mediation efforts was Jackie Haggerty who is trained to work in community dispute resolution. Her efforts are reimbursed by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

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