A new nonprofit organization in Jasper County is designed to provide mediation services for low-income residents of the Lowcountry.
Paul Brody is founder and director of the Beaufort/Jasper Community Conflict Resolution Center, and he hopes he can save clients time and money by settling disputes and disagreements without going to court.
All civil actions filed in South Carolina's district courts are subject to mediation, according to the District Court of South Carolina. But mediating a case with a private attorney could cost $125 to more than $400 an hour, making it cost-prohibitive for low-income residents, Brody said.
To help those who can't afford private mediation, Brody's center will offer services on a sliding scale based on income, he said.
The lowest charge is $7.25 an hour, for someone making less than $15,000 a year, he said. The highest rate is $43 an hour, for someone making $50,000 a year or more.
The center opened in Ridgeland in September. It is one of three nonprofit mediation centers in the state, joining the Upstate Mediation Center in Greenville and Midlands Mediation Center in Columbia.
In his first six weeks as director, Brody has contacted 83 judges, local government officials, sheriffs and court officials to tell them about the organization and its goal. Brody will serve as a mediator Tuesday for his first clients, in a dispute between a landlord and a tenant.
"We're still so new that people don't understand us yet," he said.
Brody, who moved to Callawassie Island in July, spent the past 15 years as a private divorce mediator and criminal mediator in North Carolina.
"I saw a need here," Brody said. "(My wife and I) have been coming down here for quite some time, and I started talking to people here, and they said there's nothing here like that."
Beaufort County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch was excited about the center when Brody contacted her several weeks ago.
Mediation is a key step in helping residents and the courts save money, so everyone should have the opportunity to take advantage of the services, she said. "I think it's a tremendous idea."
Now Bensch is working to arrange a meeting with Brody and County Council members to discuss how the council can support the center.
By providing low-cost mediation for those who couldn't otherwise afford it, Brody's center could help settle more disputes before they ever reach a courtroom, easing the 14th Judicial Circuit's caseload, said Richard Kahn, director of the Upstate Mediation Center.
"Mediation is really trying to help the efficiency of the overloaded court system," Kahn said. "It's a facilitation process more than an adjudication process."
Brody is the organization's only mediator for now, but he hopes to add volunteers as his clientele grows.
"I know it's going to work," he said, "and it's going to be good for the community."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.