News and Tribune

February 1, 2014

WATCHING, WONDERING: Clark County officials react to drug court revelations

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Elected officials in the Clark County Government Building are watching the events in Circuit Court No. 2 unfold with increasing concern.

The court, and specifically the Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program, are under scrutiny after the News and Tribune reported that drug court participants were held for lengthy periods after being sanctioned by the court for violations of the terms of their participation in the program.

That news came just weeks after the News and Tribune reported on the activities of court employees who allegedly acted as law enforcement officials in bringing violators to the county jail.

Since the news broke, the program’s director, Susan Knoebel, was fired Tuesday after being suspended Jan. 7. Court Bailiff Jeremy Snelling, who was also suspended the same day, remains on unpaid leave. Judge Jerry Jacobi, who presides over the court, has declined to respond to media requests for comment on the matters.

County Commissioner Rick Stephenson, a Republican, expressed outrage when asked about the situation, calling it “a joke” if allegations arising from the two situations are true.

“Since the investigation’s not complete, I can’t really draw any conclusions,” Stephenson said. “But if the accusations are true, then it just shows the sad state of affairs of the Clark County judiciary.”

Fellow Commissioner John Perkins, a Democrat, said that because the judicial branch is separate and independent of the rest of county government, there’s not much the county executive can do. But he expressed concern about the rights of drug court participants being potentially violated.

“Judges are an independent branch of the government, and the judiciary should be independent,” Perkins said. “But there seems to have been a breakdown somewhere along the way in communications between the courts, the jail and the public defenders.”

Perkins said that the handling of personnel matters in the court was Jacobi’s prerogative, but the constitutional rights of defendants need to be honored. He said he was concerned about whether public defenders involved in drug court cases were notified when hearings were held on the status of participants.

County Council member Kelly Khuri, a Republican and Tea Party supporter, pointed out that the commissioners and council approved the grant for the drug court program that allowed for its creation, and said she believed the two could end it.

“I think that we need some accountability. We need to scrutinize what’s going on in this court,” Khuri said. “I’m stunned by this. My gosh, what’s next? How’s this going to affect us?”

Khuri expressed concern about the amount of money the court spent on travel in 2013 — she said they spent more than $11,000 to send employees to conferences — and wondered why the court only spent a few hundred on drug court graduations.

Khuri requested a copy of the grant from Knoebel in October, and provided email correspondence in which the request was made. She said Knoebel never responded to her request.

“It seems to me that we could at least take it upon ourselves to get some of the numbers, the figures, the statistics from Jacobi,” she said.

County Council President Barbara Hollis, a Democrat, did not respond to a request for an interview, and Council Vice President Brian Lenfert, a Republican, declined to comment other that calling the situation “disappointing.”