Eric Butler believes in the power of relationship building as a healing practice. An educator and activist, Eric’s ability to overcome life’s hurdles propels him to make a difference in the lives of young people across the U.S. and beyond.
Eric began his career as a domestic violence counselor in New Orleans. After surviving Hurricane Katrina and relocating to Oakland, California, Eric successfully facilitated Grief Circles in response to homicide and extreme violence in area schools as a part of Catholic Charities’ crisis response program. He also worked as a lead mediator with Youth Uprising, where he mediated conflicts on the ground in Oakland neighborhoods and schools. Eric is recognized for his impactful restorative justice work with youth in West Oakland as the School Coordinator at Bunche High School with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). He went on to found the “Talking Peace” model of Restorative Justice, a set of practices and philosophy aimed at building relationships through shared values. National publications like the New York Times and YES! Magazine, and the film, CIRCLES, document Eric’s pioneering and transformational approach, which hinges on the tremendous power of a single conversation.
Eric was the first recipient of the NACRJ Dennis Maloney Award for Community and Restorative Justice, was awarded the Cinequest Film Festival “Visionary Award” in 2019, and was awarded the Northwest Justice Forum 2019 Lifetime Restorative Justice Award. He serves on the Board of Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, & Reconciliation. From keynote speaking to facilitating professional development experiences within school districts, Eric travels around the world to make restorative practices accessible to anyone willing to commit. Restorative practices are not only tools to be used in schools or in courts, but provide for a way of being to help communities connect, heal, make peace and long-lasting change.
Catherine Conner has been a mediation and collaborative practice trainer since 2004. She is a frequent presenter at collaborative conferences and family law workshops. She authored Collaborative Practice Materials with Steven Neustadter and Margaret Anderson. Catherine Conner’s private practice focuses on family law alternate dispute resolution, including mediation, collaborative practice, and private judging. She graduated from the University of California, Boalt Hall in 1982 and is a founding partner of Conner, Lawrence, Rodney, Olhiser & Barrett, LLP. In 1992, Catherine became a Certified Family Law Specialist. She has been honored as the recipient of the Rex Sater Award for Excellence in Family Law, the Eureka award by Collaborative Practice California and was the 2018 honoree for Careers of Distinction. She was on the Board of Directors of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals from 2007-2014 and served as the President in 2013.
Norman Fischer is a poet, author, Zen Buddhist priest and former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. As founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation (www.everydayzen.org), his work with meditation practice has taken him into many corners of contemporary American life including the arts, education, hospice training, education, and lawyering as a spiritual path. Recently, he began offering meditation training to engineers at Google. Norman has worked with the Center for Understanding in Conflict on inquiries that focus on bringing the calmness and insight of meditation practice directly into conflict situations. Norman has written 29 books. His latest books are Untitled Series: Life As It is and The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path.
Chris Fortin is a Soto Zen teacher and a licensed MFT psychotherapist and Spiritual Counselor. She began practicing Buddhism in 1976 while living at the San Francisco Zen Center. After many years of practice she received Dharma Transmission from Zoketsu Norman Fischer of Everyday Zen, in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She began her private counseling practice in 1985, integrating psychotherapy and spirituality.
Chris established Dharma Heart Zen to share the path of wholehearted living and awakening with others (www.dharmaheartzen.com). She leads the Dharma Heart Zen Sangha in Cotati and the Woman’s Lotus Sangha in Sebastopol. She practices and teaches in the Everyday Zen community. She is guiding teacher of Sky Island Zen in Tuscon Arizona, and leads retreats and workshops throughout the country. She is the co- founder of Veterans PATH (formerly Honoring the Path of the Warrior), offering retreats and meditation and mindfulness practices for returning veterans.
Gary J. Friedman
Gary J. Friedman has been practicing law as a mediator with Mediation Law Offices in Mill Valley, California since 1976, integrating mediative principles into the practice of law and the resolution of legal disputes. Co-founder of the Center for Understanding in Conflict (formerly the Center for Mediation in Law), he has been teaching mediation since 1980. Prior to his work as a mediator, he practiced law as a trial lawyer with Friedman and Friedman in Bridgeport, Connecticut. After several years as an advocate, he sought a new approach to resolving disputes through increasing the participation of the parties in the resolution of their differences. At that time, he and his colleague, Jack Himmelstein, began to develop the Understanding-based model that is now practiced extensively in the United States and Europe. As one of the first lawyer mediators and a primary force in the current mediation movement, he has used this model to complete over one thousand mediations in the last two decades He has mediated numerous two-party and multi-party disputes in the commercial and non-profit realms, in the area of intellectual property, real estate, corporate, personnel, partnership formations and dissolutions, and family law.
Jack Himmelstein is co-founder of the Center for Understanding in Conflict, a national non-profit educational institute which trains lawyers and other professionals in the Understanding-based model of conflict resolution, based in New York and California. For the past 30 years, Jack has conducted introductory and advanced trainings in this approach to resolving conflict throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Israel for lawyers, psychologists, teachers and other professionals who work with conflict and teach in the field. In addition, the trainings have introduced this approach into the teaching of collaborative practice, focusing on the work of lawyers, psychologists (coaches), child specialists, and financial professionals. He also practices mediation in business, family, non-profit and other contexts.
Learn more about Jack Himmelstein View Jack’s CV
Natalia Lopez-Whitaker is a Family Law Mediator/Attorney with offices in San Francisco and Oakland. She is a bi-racial woman: Mexican and German; first woman in her family to attend a four year University; and first attorney in her family. She sits on the CUC Board of Trustees. She is focused on advocating for a more racially diverse community of Family Law practitioners (Attorneys, Mediators, and Mental Health Professionals) who will create and implement a new way to resolve conflict.
Katherine Eisold Miller
Katherine Eisold Miller is an attorney practicing mediation and collaborative practice in Westchester County, NY. She has been practicing family law since 1987, first as a litigator and now exclusively outside the court system. She has taught family law at the White Institute and NYU as well as with the Center and lectures regularly on mediation and collaborative practice. She is a Board member of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals.
Learn More about Katherine Eisold Miller View Katherine’s CV
Melanie Rowen, our President, is a mediator and conflict coach who believes in the power of understanding-based conflict resolution to transform our world. She frequently trains individuals and groups on effective communication in conflict situations and on creating inclusive environments, particularly around gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Melanie previously litigated civil rights cases, including marriage equality, employment discrimination, issues involving transgender and gender non-conforming youth and their families, and issues facing LGBTQ+ elders, at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and served on the Board of Directors of the Transgender Law Center. Earlier in her career, she worked in business litigation at Latham & Watkins LLP, and for many years, she was the Associate Director for Public Interest Programs at UC Berkeley School of Law. Melanie currently works in attorney professional development at the Bay Area offices of a large law firm, and is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association for Law Placement.
Stacey Shuster, Ph.D. is a psychologist-mediator in full-time private practice in San Francisco. Trained as a couple, family and child therapist, she has worked at the AIDS Family Project in San Francisco and taught Family Therapy at a number of local graduate programs, including the Department of Psychiatry at California Pacific Medical Center. She is a trained mediator and collaborative coach, and helps separating and divorcing families as a co-parent counselor. Most recently, she has enjoyed working together with attorneys in co-mediation.
Stacey has presented at a number of national professional conferences on issues related to same-sex divorce and co-parenting challenges, as well as on Integrative Mediation.
Becca Vershbow has worked with public school programs in the Bay Area for the past 12 years, specializing in Arts, Service Learning, and Restorative Practices. For several years, one of her primary roles has been to support the professional development of educators with a focus on systemic change of school culture and teaching practices. Becca is also the Impact Producer for CIRCLES film, spreading the power and message of Restorative Justice across the country. She is involved in creating spaces for dialogue and relationship building across difference. She is also an artist with a specialization in portrait work but brings artistry into marketing and beautification.
Lacey Wilson is the Programs Coordinator at SEEDS Community Resolution Center. She worked for seven years as an educator then transitioned to the legal profession in legal support positions at Camille King Collaborative Law & Mediation and Disability Rights California, respectively. She believes at the core of change is solid relationship building and has a serious passion for restorative practices, particularly within marginalized communities, education, and law. In addition to her work at SEEDS, Lacey serves as a Board Member and as one of six team members delivering an intensive racial and cultural conflict training program with CUC.
Born and raised in the Austin, Texas area, Lacey made her way to the Bay in August 2015. She’s a published author and spends her free time working on creative writing and DIY projects or in the company of friends over coffee, boba tea, good food, or a hike in the redwoods! Lacey studied Special Education at Texas State University and received her mediation certifications at SEEDS and the Center for Understanding in Conflict in 2016. As a lifelong learner, she is continuously seeking out communities willing to have courageous conversations around cultural awareness and social change.