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Peacemaking court proposed for Washtenaw County

Morgue File

A new kind of court may be coming to Washtenaw County.

Judge Timothy Connors has spearheaded an effort to obtain a grant for a peacemaking court. It would come from the Court Performance Innovation Fund administered by the Michigan Supreme Court. Connors says the peacemaking court would be the second of its kind in the country associated with a state court. The first is in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Connors says the peacemaking court is modeled on Native American tribal court traditions. He refers to the values undergirding the new court's process as "the four Rs:" respect, responsibility, relationship and restoration. Peacemaking courts seek solutions that will repair the harm done, heal the relationships, and restore the individual to his or her community or family.

If the Michigan Supreme Court decides to fund the project, Susan Butterwick will direct it. She says conflicts have a ripple effect beyond the people directly involved in the case.

"Other people in the community, whether it's a school or a workplace, are impacted by what happens, and they too should be part of the conversation so that everyone can reach understanding through the resulting solution," said Butterwick.

Judge Connors notes that regular court proceedings are adversarial in nature, and often leave all parties to a dispute dissatisfied. The approach of the peacemaking court "may offer an alternative that does a far better job of resolving the concern that brought it into court in the first place," said Connors.

Connors says cases involving ongoing relationships will be particularly well suited to the peacemaking court. Family, probate, and juvenile court disputes are some of the kinds of cases that would be eligible. Judges would decide whether a particular case could be referred to the peacemaking court, and the voluntary agreement of the litigants would be necessary.

Both Connors and Butterwick anticipate the resolutions that come out of the peacemaking court will be more durable than in traditional courts.

The Michigan Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to award the grant by October 1.

--Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Clarification:  At a Jan. 30, 2014 education session involving the new peacemaking court, Judge Connors said that the new peacemaking court in Washtenaw County is the first one in the country which is part of a state court system. He said that since the publication of this article, he had learned that the Red Hook program is a diversionary program and not part of the state court .