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New Peacemaking Court will help ease relationship conflicts

Dec 13, 2013

from the article in Oakland County Legal News:

A dream has come true for Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Timothy Connors who will oversee a new Peacemaking Court thanks to a yearlong grant from the state’s Court Performance Innovation Fund.

“This is an alternative—a way of thinking, a way of talking, a way of acting that in my opinion has great validity toward achieving justice,” said Connors, who has already begun to oversee the new court. 

The Peacemaking Court will use Native American principles for resolving disputes, using values Connors refers to as the four Rs: respect, responsibility, relationship, and redirection. The concept has been around for many years in Native American cultures as well as courts in England and New Zealand, Connors said, referring also to King Arthur’s Round Table, where all participants were equal and open.

Through this grant, the Michigan Supreme Court is giving the county the chance to experiment and see how it works here and may work elsewhere.

Any case that involves conflict in relationships could be appropriate for the Peacemaking Court, Connors said, citing cases of juvenile delinquency, domestic conflicts, eldercare issues, business disputes, and zoning or regulation issues as examples.

“Obviously, there are plenty of cases where it won’t be appropriate,” Connors said. “You wouldn’t send a rape case to Peacemaking Court. But there are many, many conflicts that come through the courts all the time that are appropriate. The idea is to redirect things back on a path that is healthy for the individuals involved and the greater community that is affected; further, to have more voices heard in the resolution of that process.”

Connors envisions discussions happening in a circle, with much of the work done outside of the courtroom and time allowed for each person to be heard.

Connors said all courts involve people who are suffering—either physically, emotionally, mentally, or financially.

“When we talk about peacemaking, it’s a conscious decision to turn back to a place that is healthy and healing,” he said.  “We start out with the idea that we treat everyone who comes to the table with respect and equality. We’re in disagreement. We’re in discord. But we have to be respectful of the other person, and responsible for the situation that has caused the harm. We are dependent on each other. We are connected to each other, and we need to understand and recognize the need to say, `We have a tear in the fabric here. How do we work on improving that relationship?”’

Read the full article.

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