In 2017, supporters of mediation and alternate dispute resolution in Allegheny County observed the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the Mediation Council. The organization now known as the Mediation Council of Western PA (MCWP) originated and was incorporated as the Family Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania (FMC) in 1982. The earliest meetings of the Family Mediation Council took place in the living room of the Squirrel Hill home of Natalie Kaplan and Judge Lawrence Kaplan. Larry Kaplan became a passionate advocate for family mediation early in his career as a judge in the Allegheny County Family Division after witnessing the toll that litigation took on the parties who came before him and on their children. Larry was joined in his efforts to promote mediation by a number of lawyers, mental health professionals and financial planners. Others who participated in the early meetings of the FMC included Louis Vitti, Jill Balagur-Conn, Paul Wahrhaftig, Jim Hickey, Millie Sucov, Susan Wilkie, Rick Isaacson, Paul Lyons, Ron Heyman. Articles of Incorporation were filed by Lou Vitti on July 6, 1982.
In the early years of the organization, members created a program aimed at providing pro bono mediation for financially eligible custody litigants upon referral by the judges of the Allegheny County Family Division. For many years, the FMC maintained a phone line for members of the public who were interested in inquiring about mediation services, with FMC volunteers returning calls, answering questions about the mediation process and referring potential clients to mediators. Several peer groups were formed, providing a vehicle for mediators to meet in small groups, generally of four or five mediators, to compare notes on their cases and discuss process. Members regularly volunteered to attend meetings of community groups and organizations like the YWCA, to inform their members and clients about the mediation process. For a while, local television stations ran public service announcements about mediation prepared by the Council.
In the years after 1982, mediation began to be embraced in a number of arenas beyond family court, such as the US Postal Service, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, US District Court for the Western District of PA and the US Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of PA, school districts, and, through the work of the Pittsburgh Mediation Center, in local magisterial district judges’ offices. Several members of the FMC were active in a number of these programs, as were many attorneys and other professionals who did not practice in the domestic relations field. As the use of mediation began to expand, the members of the Family Mediation Council realized that, in order to continue to be a leader in advancing the practice of mediation, the council had to widen its scope. In 1999, the Family Mediation Council changed its name to the Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania, and invited mediators from other fields to join the Council. The officers and directors involved in that decision were Bernie Behrend, President, Linda King, Vice President, Chris Kornosky, Treasurer, Lynn MacBeth, Secretary, Nancy Snow, Mark Greenblatt, Bonnie Karsten, Jean Lupariello, Roberta Eisen-Cohen, Susan Tanzer, Deborah Iwnayshyn, Laura Valles, Janice Seidenfeld, Michael Lang, and Richard Duncan.
The press release announcing the change noted that the FMC then consisted of 40 members. Since then, the membership has grown to 58, and includes practitioners in fields as diverse as community mediation, business and commercial mediation, workplace mediation, education, bankruptcy, civil litigation, small business and family business disputes, victim/offender mediation, conflict among families over the care of elderly parents and over inheritance issues, and many other areas of interpersonal conflict. In recent years, the Council has partnered with the Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association, and the Collaborative Law Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania, in presenting the annual Kaplan Lecture (named after Judge Larry Kaplan) and in annual Conflict Resolution Day events, bringing nationally recognized experts in dispute resolution like Ken Cloke, Brad Heckman, Forrest Mosten and Nan Waller Burnett to Pittsburgh for lectures and training programs. The Council also conducts a series of educational roundtables each year for our membership. Our mediators who specialize in family mediation continue to meet regularly to discuss topics relevant to that practice.
Many people who are not named in this article have been active in the FMC and the MCWP over the years, and have made valuable contributions to the organizations and to the practice of mediation in Allegheny County. Everyone who has participated in our organizations is encouraged to contribute your thoughts about your experiences and about the growth of mediation and alternate dispute resolution generally in this area over the past 35 years.
The organization would not have survived without the invaluable contributions of several people who have served as administrators, including Trudi Grotzinger, Linda Metropulos, Mary Jo Breen and Mala Mason.
This history of the Mediation Council was prepared by Mark Greenblatt, with valuable assistance from Bernie Behrend, Nancy Snow, Paul Lyons, Ann Begler and Judi Patz. Bernie and Nancy are past presidents of the Council. Ann Begler, Paul Lyons, and Judi Patz were all members of the FMC from its very earliest days and Ann Begler continues to be a leading advocate for mediation and ADR.