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OMC to mark milestone of '25 years of Resolution'

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

More than three decades have passed since two task forces, one appointed by Michigan lawmakers, and the other by the State Bar of Michigan, undertook an effort to explore options to traditional judicial processes.

Both task forces discovered that a large sector of Michigan's residents were dissatisfied with a legal system that was too costly and courts that were too slow to hear their cases.

The Oakland Mediation Center (OMC) was established as result of those findings.

"Our citizens wanted more alternatives to the legal status quo," said Bonnie Hanes, executive director of OMC. "So, in 1990, based on recommendations from both groups, the Oakland Mediation Center (OMC) was founded."

Twenty-five years later, OMC is making a significant difference in how civil conflicts are adjudicated.

To celebrate that success, OMC will honor six community leaders for their dedication to the center at "25 years of Resolution," a Masquerade Ball, October 30 at 6 p.m. at the Lafayette Grand in Pontiac.

OMC will recognize Marilyn Flam, a former educator and volunteer mediator; Judge Joseph Longo, of the 43rd District Court in Ferndale; Elizabeth Pezzetti, chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court;

Julie Nicholson, chief judge of Rochester's 52nd District Court; Julie McDaniel of Oakland County Schools; and Stephen Cooper, former chief judge of the 46th District Court.

"There is a common thread that connects all of our honorees. All of them really believe in the mediation process. They know our programs abide by best practices," Hanes said.

"With this event we are celebrating the future and our dedication to be of more service to the community before potential litigants seek to sue," Hanes said.

Along with her staff and members of the mediation community, Hanes has pioneered programs that reach out to a diverse population.

"We only have six people on staff, but they are on full throttle all of the time," Hanes said.

OMC has conducted mediation trainings for students and teachers at 370 Oakland County schools.

"We are very pleased that we can offer schools an array of recognized and sustainable programs to address school to prison pipeline issues like bullying and truancy," Hanes said.

"The center is very involved in resolving social conflicts among students in grades K-12, through programs like Peers Making Peace," Hanes said. "We teach them to ask what do you need to do to feel better about yourself? It is amazing to see the kids act as mediators."

The Olweus Bullying Prevention program tackles school bullying through intervention. The program has reduced the number of bullying reports by 20-50 percent, Hanes noted.

Truancy Prevention through Mediation is another OMC initiative.

"OMC works to keep kids in school," Hanes said. "If an elementary school age child is out of school more than two days a month they are likely to be future drop-outs. We want to keep these kids engaged so they don't become part of the juvenile justice system."

Hanes has been at OMC for 16 years, and executive director for 10. But time has not dampened her enthusiasm about the benefits of mediation.

"Mediation is so powerful. I see families who won't speak to each other at the beginning of a mediation, then three hours later they are walking out together and planning the next family dinner," Hanes said.

From 1992 until 2015, OMC has trained more than 1,000 mediators, Mediators are not required to be attorneys.

"They are social workers, teachers, architects, doctors and construction workers," Hanes said.

"Because our mediators represent a multiplicity of ages, professions, religions and ethnicities, the community can relate to us, to think OMC is a place for them," Hanes said. "Our oldest mediator is in her eighties, our youngest ones are in their twenties."

Besides its youth and domestic mediation programs, OMC has partnered with WMU-Cooley Law School to train law students as state court administrative office approved civil mediators.

"The program prepares students for the real world of mediation by providing experiential training and practical experience to WMU-Cooley students while developing highly-trained mediators," Hanes said.

Before potential mediators earn their accreditation they are required to complete a five-day interactive training. Additional courses are offered for domestic relations and advance mediation.

"OMC strives to maintain a roster of 70 mediators," Hanes said. "Although we are a community mediation center, we deliver court rule mediation for the courts, attorneys and clients. It is a facilitated neutral process."

Subsequently, members of the legal community have embraced OMC's programs, often referring cases to the center.

"They see the benefits of mediation," she said.

Going forward, Hanes is working on a long-term strategic plan.

"We want OMC to be of more service to our community. Many people still don't know what our brand is so we are reaching out to everyone to encourage them to think of mediation before they sue their neighbor," Hanes said.

For information about OMC's "25 Years of Resolution" Masquerade Ball, contact Alexis LaClair at (248) 338-4280, ext. 214 or alaclair@mediation-omc.org. Visit http://www.mediation-omc.org/ to purchase tickets.

Published: Wed, Oct 07, 2015

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