Groundbreaking Restorative Justice Case Finds Success in Minnesota

Groundbreaking Restorative Justice Case Finds Success in Minnesota - Willow Anderson

MN Attorneys Jack Rice and Willow Anderson implemented a restorative justice model focused on community healing – successfully navigating a new alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.

[Minneapolis Minn.]-  Civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd led to protests across the nation, one of which resulted in the toppling of a Christopher Columbus statue on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol by American Indian Movement activist Michael Anthony Forcia. Mr. Forcia was charged with one count of felony Criminal Damage to Property.

Criminal defense lawyer Jack Rice and civil attorney Willow Anderson joined forces to take on this case pro bono.  Working with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, they collaborated with community leaders to determine a restorative justice process that would give voice to community members on how to best hold Mr. Forcia accountable while healing the community and preventing similar incidents from occurring.

Faith based leaders, elected officials, legal scholars, educators, philanthropists, Native American tribal members, media, law enforcement, and representatives from major political parties in Minnesota came together to form three restorative justice circles. Their aim was to determine what happened and why, voice their opinions, discuss the harm caused, and establish a path forward without sacrificing personal accountability. 

Several overarching themes emerged from these conversations. Such as respect for the rule of law, the need to deter copycat acts, and taking accountability for one’s actions. While also recognizing that toppling the statue was done out of an act of desperation against the backdrop of a long history of violence that has been inflicted upon Native people. That the impact of those harms is largely unrecognized or unknown by the dominant culture and is ongoing today. Further, efforts to seek removal of the Columbus statue received little to no consideration by law makers. There was not actually an approachable mechanism in place in the law to effect the removal of the statue. The groups recognized that the community must acknowledge the failure of public systems to address this concern as a contributing factor.  There was context for this unlawful act that was committed out of civil disobedience that we should seek to understand and reckon with in determining the legal system’s response.

The unanimous group consensus was that Mr. Forcia should be held accountable but that a criminal conviction and jail time would be counterproductive.  Rather than serve time, Mr. Forcia must serve the community.  He must perform restitution in the form of 100 hours of service to the community through providing education and participating in other restorative practices.  After that, the charge will be dismissed.  Jack Rice, a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist, used this case to promote the restorative justice model as a platform for true criminal justice transformation: h

“Mike’s case and this resolution is not just about restorative justice but about transformative justice. There are many perspectives, some who agree and some who disagree, and their voices all matter. What we have been advocating for is to insure that what will grow out of this is that those voices will be heard.”

The circles allowed community members to express their concerns, while exploring the impact of the actions that led to the charges, and creating value-driven change. By using a restorative justice process (rather than taking the case to trial), Rice and Anderson successfully advocated for an alternative approach – a crucial step toward ultimately reforming our justice system.  Anderson, an experienced alternative dispute resolution attorney and mediator had this to say:  

“The process must reflect the desired end result. This is an enlightened approach.  Violence begets violence. If we want reconciliation and healing, then so must be the process. That is what we accomplished here. Through collaboration, respectful dialogue, and creative problem solving we were able to achieve an extraordinary result not just for our client but for the broader community. What Minnesota has done could very well be a blueprint for similar cases across the country. The process used here is a historic step in the right direction towards understanding and the de-escalation of violence.”

Jack Rice is a nationally recognized criminal defense lawyer and founder of Jack Rice Defense.  He is a Minnesota State Bar Association Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. He received the Professional Excellence Award from the MSBA for 2020, the only lawyer to do so.  He is also a former Prosecutor and a former CIA Officer. Jack has decades of experience representing criminal defense clients.

Willow Anderson is a civil attorney and former Assistant Attorney General having litigated cases in almost every Minnesota county. She is also a Minnesota Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Qualified Neutral having received leadership awards for her work in negotiations. Willow is passionate about her work in family law and teaching lawyers and law students to be more successful advocates. Willow has worked for CNN and CNN International. 

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