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Strong interest in new peacemaking court in Washtenaw County

Virginia Gordan

There appears to be a lot of interest in a new kind of court in Washtenaw County.

More than 80 lawyers, mediators, and probation officers packed Judge Timothy Connors' courtroom on Friday.

They were there for a six-hour education session on the Native American philosophy that guides the new peacemaking court. 

The program was led by Tribal Council member and former Tribal Judge JoAnne Gasco and Court Peacemaker Paul Raphael from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottowa and Chippewa Indians.

There were about twice as many applicants as spaces available, according to Judge Connors' judicial coordinator.   

Judge Connors said the written applications revealed a strong interest in an alternative to the traditional adversarial dynamic at work in courtrooms.

Judge Connors said the goal of a peacemaking court is to seek a more harmonious solution that integrates the repairing of harm, healing of relationships, restoring the defendant back into the family and the community, and a conscious redirection on a new path.

"So we're redirecting ourselves back to a commitment to those fundamental values. And as it was mentioned that we've learned from the Navajos, those are respect, relationships, responsibility," he said.

Lisa Greco directs the Washtenaw County Youth Center which houses the County's juvenile detention program.  She said the new court's approach will be a good fit for all sorts of cases, not just ones involving children.

"We're all embedded in families and embedded in systems and communities that all have to be a part of the healing," Greco said.

Greco agrees with Judge Connors that closure through the peacemaking process holds the promise of longer-lasting resolution to conflict than traditional court processes.

Juvenile, probate, and some civil and criminal disputes could be eligible for the new court. The opportunity to participate must first be offered by the judge. Participation is voluntary, and all parties must agree.

Judge Connors said he has been contacted by judges from all over Michigan who are interested in the  new peacemaking court.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom