Western Justice Center (WJC) was founded in 1987 by a group of visionary judges, lawyers and civic leaders led by the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Housed in Pasadena’s historic Maxwell House, WJC was created to develop creative programs to teach students, teachers and members of the community ways to resolve conflict peacefully.

In 2014, WJC merged with Encompass, a non-profit youth development organization devoted to reducing prejudice and bias-related conflicts. Together, as WJC, we are working with students, teachers and community members to raise awareness, build skills and increase the possibility of just communities and schools.

Founder, Judge Dorothy W. Nelson (left) and Executive Director, Judge Judith C. Chirlin (LASC-Ret.)

Founder, Judge Dorothy W. Nelson (left) and Executive Director, Judge Judith C. Chirlin (LASC-Ret.)

About our Founder

Honorable Dorothy Nelson

The story of Western Justice Center is intertwined with that of its founder, Judge Nelson. She began implementing her vision for a more just and peaceful world, one achieved with the help of law, first as a young lawyer and professor and, later, in 1969, as the first woman dean of a major American law school, the University of Southern California Law School.

There, to the surprise (and later admiration) of many students and colleagues, she advocated the use of mediation as an alternative to litigation. When then-President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Nelson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1979, she continued her trail blazing approach and helped initiate one of the first mediation programs for a federal appellate court. She also looked at a group of abandoned buildings next door to the court and envisioned a place where a non-profit organization would develop programs for youth and adults to learn to solve conflicts peacefully. Judge Nelson and that intrepid group of like-minded lawyers and judges embarked on a campaign to create that place. In 1987, Western Justice Center came into being.

Judge Nelson’s idea, that people in the legal community could collaboratively resolve conflicts instead of taking them to trial, caught on. The model quickly spread across the nation and even around the world. Today, alternative dispute resolution, or “appropriate” dispute resolution as Judge Nelson prefers, is a staple of the U.S. justice system and is growing in acceptance globally. That same idea, that conflicts can and should be resolved collaboratively, is taking hold in schools and communities on a widespread basis.

Western Justice Center - Judge Nelson’s legacy - is proud to be part of this unfolding story. WJC is working within schools and communities to make real Judge Nelson’s vision that conflicts can be solved collaboratively and, with proper attention, the groundwork can be set for resolving or even avoiding future conflict.