Peacekeeping court in Washtenaw County?

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

As a Washtenaw County Probate Court attorney working for a judge who handles probate and domestic cases, Teresa Killeen has seen more than her fair share of heated family fights.

"We're seeing families just ripping at each other," said Killeen. "It's just so destructive. There's a piece of it we can't help - families fighting with each other. But if you decide to take your fight into a fighting arena, all you do is ratchet it up. I've said to people, 'Think down the road. What is Thanksgiving dinner going to be like if you've deposed your mother?'"

That's why Killeen is so excited that Washtenaw County is being considered nationally as a pilot site for establishing a peacekeeping court within the family law division of the court.

The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and the Washtenaw County Bar Association's Family Law Section will sponsor a joint educational meeting on peacekeeping courts at noon on Friday, Sept. 14 at the Washtenaw County Courthouse.

Tribal Court Judge Angela K. Sherigan, past state president of WLAM, and former chair of the American Indian Law section of the State Bar of Michigan, will speak on tribal state court initiatives in Washtenaw County.

Tribal courts use peacekeeping courts for dispute resolution. Over the last two years, Judge Sherigan has collaborated with Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Timothy P. Connors on an initiative that would bring the concept of peacekeeping courts into family court.

Judges Sherigan and Connors will discuss the role a peacekeeping court has for family matters.

"Tribal Courts in Michigan have long utilized peacekeeping philosophies in their family courts," said Judge Connors. "State courts have recently realized the value of this approach. Michigan State Court Judges have been learning from our Tribal Court colleagues through the SCAO Court Improvement Program's Tribal State Court Relations Committee."

Killeen said she's been impressed with some of the innovative ways to reach segments of the population, including drug courts and Washtenaw County's street outreach court.

"We're carving out these specialties and processing people in a different way in order to hopefully really address the problem as opposed to what we've been doing," she said.

So now when she hears families fighting, she thinks: 'Can't we just have a peacekeeping court?'

Also at the meeting Friday, Judge Sherigan will present Judge Connors with the Tecumseh Peacekeeping Award (a pipe) in recognition of his work with tribal courts and with the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Participants are welcome to bring lunch. Pizza and drinks will be provided.

Published: Mon, Sep 10, 2012

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