By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO January 2, 2001 In 1981, New York State Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke (1914-2000) introduced legislation that created the NYS Community Dispute Resolution Centers Program.
Under this law, the Ulster/Sullivan Mediation Center was established in 1983 as one of the many non-profit organizations that work with the Unified Court Systems to provide mediation and dispute resolution services to residents throughout the state.
On Thursday, December 21, the folks from Ulster/Sullivan Mediation hosted a ceremony in the Sullivan County Lawrence H. Cooke Courthouses Courtroom #1 (Cookes old Monticello courtroom during his tenure as county judge) to honor the revered local judges efforts in setting up the system of community dispute resolution centers.
A special 2001 commemorative calendar dedicated to Judge Cooke was presented to his son, George L. Cooke II, who serves as Sullivan County Clerk. Ulster/Sullivan Mediation is distributing 500 copies of the calendar to judicial offices in the county and those who make referrals to the mediation center.
While he was Chief Judge of the State of New York [1979-84], Lawrence Cooke was most proud of the efforts of the statewide network of conflict resolution centers, said George Cooke. In order for our judicial system to survive, we must take the initiative for alternate forms of resolution.
Cooke noted that, in the first year mediation was introduced in NYS, 57,000 matters were resolved outside the courtroom setting, representing a considerable savings in time and expense to the judical system and all parties involved in the process.
He created a forum that was closer to the people and less formal, added Cooke. We in the Cooke family feel that as long as my fathers ideas live, Lawrence Cooke will never die.
NYS Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kane reflected upon the fittingness of holding the ceremony in Cookes old courtroom.
His presence is here, by way of his image [a large oil portrait] on the wall, and his spirit goes on in this courtroom, he said.
While noting that mediation is not 100 percent, but quite successful, Judge Kane said its a wonderful alternative to the lawsuit method of settling disputes.
Judge Cooke had the vision to understand the importance of conflict resolution and mediation as a cornerstone of the judicial process, added Kane.
Congressman Benjamin Gilman (20th District) recalled working with Judge Cooke on several state and national issues.
I found Larry Cooke to be a man of great compassion and insight, said Gilman. He was universally loved, and his reforms reverberated in every courtroom throughout New York State.
He was a great and compassionate jurist, added Gilman. His reputation and integrity knew no bounds.
Jolanda Bassi, a mediator at the Monticello office of Ulster/Sullivan Mediation, also introduced the Judge Cooke Community Justice Programs, a series of innovative mediation principals based upon the Genesee Justice Program (of Genesee County, NY). The fledgling local program is dedicated to the restoration of victims and families.
A couple of years ago, Sharron Miller of Monticello watched as her son Andre Simmons was falsly accused and arrested and later cleared of all charges for allegedly participating in what local authorities viewed as a gang-related assault. On Dec. 8, she sat in the courtroom as her son was sentenced as a youthful offender to 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison for another crime, a crime Simmons admits he committed.
Miller, a trained mediator with Ulster/Sullivan Mediation, spoke movingly about the experience of having her son meet face to face with the person he offended. Such voluntary meetings are an integral aspect of the new Judge Cooke Community Justice Program and have proved successful in Genesee County.
Mediation is a godsend to us, said Judge Kane after the ceremony. Confrontational litigation is not the solution for many problems. You need the talents of well-trained mediators to get individuals out of that confrontational mode and get them thinking about solutions separate from the battle.