THE LONG SAGA of the Portland Police Bureau's deal with the US Department of Justice over its abysmal record dealing with the mentally ill took a strange turn this week when a judge ruled that both the cops and their critics deserve a spot at the table.

On Tuesday, February 19, US District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled that both the Portland Police Association, the city's rank-and-file police union, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMA), a police accountability group, will be allowed to weigh in on proposed mental health and use-of-force reforms.

Simon wants the two to sit down with the city and the feds in front of a mediator, where they can talk about how to make changes.

But the judge's ruling comes with some constraints.

Simon upheld the police union's request to join the city as a partial defendant, citing an earlier federal court decision that allowed Los Angeles' police union the same right. But Simon didn't grant the AMA the same. Instead he gave the group "enhanced amicus" status. This lets the AMA submit briefs and testify, but it won't have the right to appeal the judge's final decision. The AMA had wanted the settlement to expand to racial issues.

Mediation is expected to start in March and could last into the spring. That puts off a public "fairness hearing" where the community will be invited to sound off on the deal and a final decision by Simon.

"It's not as much as we would have hoped for," says AMA lawyer Ashlee Albies, "but it's more than we expected... we have a seat at the table and we certainly appreciate that."