Profile in Brief-Paula Humphries Mother Mediator

Even though she's presided over the 36th District Court's criminal and traffic divisions for the last decade, what Judge Paula Humphries would really like to do is keep people out of court.

For the past three years, the Detroit native, University of Michigan and Wayne State Law School graduate and 22-year resident of the local bench has been working mediations into the court's criminal docket after the Wayne County Mediation Center first brought a program to the court's attention.

"It's really helpful in the cases where people have ongoing relationships," Humphries says, referring to disputes between parents and children, siblings, and cousins that can often be resolved without creating criminal records and enable the people involved to continue interacting in the future without fighting.

"They actually sit down and work out a way that they can interact without having negative consequences," Humphries says of the practice endorsed by the Michigan Supreme Court as effective in both civil and criminal matters. "That means I won't see them back down here."

Humphries, who will celebrate 26 years with the U.S. Army Reserves in November and currently serves as a lieutenant colonel, says the mediation program is also cost-beneficial to the court and frees up her docket so she can "focus on cases where judicial intervention is really necessary."

The outcome of such mediations is something that hits close to home for Humphries, the mother of two teenage sons.

"I decided when they were born that I needed to focus on them so they don't wind up in front of me," she says.

So she gave up her position on boards for community organizations like the Urban League, Henry Ford Hospital and the NAACP to serve on her 13-year-old's Boy Scout troop committee and to head up the basketball boosters at Frederick Douglass Academy, where her 16-year-old plays.

And with good reason: Humphries says she frequently sees young people her sons' age in her courtroom, many of whom are still in high school, since at age 17 offenders move from juvenile court to the 36th District.

"That causes me a lot of concern," she says, and her sentences usually reflect her desire to keep them from becoming repeat guests before her.

"A lot of times they don't have structure," she says, adding that she tries to make their sentences as step-by-step as possible to keep young offenders from becoming overwhelmed with the terms of their probation. Once they take care of their educations, for example, then Humphries will specifically dictate their community service or work requirements and have them return every three months or so to check in with her.

"It's a more intensive probation where I have them not seeing the probation officer but coming to see me so I can see them and talk to them," offering a pat on the back when it's warranted or a little tougher encouragement when it's needed, she says.

"It's been real difficult," Humphries says, in a moment of candor, of balancing motherhood with her judicial and military responsibilities. "I can't say that I've done a real good job of balancing it because my focus has been the kids."

She has decided, however, to dedicate part of her summer to picking her golf game back up, and even though her sons both play, she says it will be something to do for herself and with other adults.

Published: Wed, Jun 2, 2010


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