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U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan Launches Pilot Mediation Program for Pro Se Prisoners

Nicole Wilmet, August 27th, 2018

In June, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan launched a two-year pilot mediation program for pro se prisoners. The Early Mediation Program for Pro Se Prisoner Civil Rights Cases will offer mediation as an alternative to litigation for pro se prisoners who have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). In its press release, the court reports that, in 2017, Michigan prisoners filed 248 civil rights suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Among these cases, 97% of prisoners were pro se litigants.

Under the new pilot program, the District County Clerk’s Office notifies pro se prisoners about the pilot program when they file. After filing, court staff attorneys screen the prisoners’ civil rights cases. As the court explains, screening eliminates about half of the lawsuits filed due to prisoners’ not stating a legal claim, suing the wrong party, or seeking damages from someone who is entitled to legal immunity. If a case makes it through this screening, prisoners are required to watch an orientation video about the program. They also receive a packet from the court that contains additional information about the program, as well as information on how to file a motion to be excluded from the program. After screening, prisoner civil rights suits are stayed for 90 days and then referred to mediation.

As the court expounds, prisoners who choose to participate in the mediation program will participate in mediation via video conferencing from prison. Meanwhile, the mediator, prison officials, and a state lawyer will interact with prisoners during mediation from the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit. If parties are able to reach a settlement during mediation, the parties’ agreement will be added to the record and the court will enter an order dismissing the case, but will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of agreement. If parties do not settle the case within 90 days, the case will proceed forward in the litigation process.

With respect to neutrals, the court notes that 40 lawyers who have completed Paul Monicatii’s mediator training curriculum will serve as the program’s mediators. These mediators will be participating in the program without compensation.

Those interested in learning more about the program may read more about it here or contact David Ashenfelter, Public Information Officer for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, at David_Ashenfelter@mied.uscourts.gov to obtain a copy of the press release.

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