By GARY POPP
CLARK COUNTY —
The Clark County Drug Treatment Court has been suspended by the Indiana Judicial Center, the IJC announced Wednesday.
IJC Executive Director Jane Seigel recently drafted a letter addressed to Clark Circuit Court No 2. Judge Jerry Jacobi — who oversees drug court — regarding the suspension.
“We have been made aware of the recent allegations of unlawful conduct by drug court staff and drug court practices harmful to participants,” the letter reads. “Regretfully, the seriousness of these allegations necessitates an immediate suspension of Clark County Drug Court operations.”
The suspension will remain in effect until further notice from the IJC.
During the suspension, the court is not permitted to accept any new participants, according to the suspension notice.
In the letter, Seigel requests that Jacobi works with the IJC to develop a plan for the supervision of those who remain in the drug court program.
The IJC has “ ... an interest in the welfare of current drug court participants ... ,” Seigel wrote in the letter.
She also asks Jacobi provide a list of all drug court participants in Clark County to the IJC within 10 business days to organize how their future supervision will be administered.
A phone call for comment was made to Jacobi’s court Wednesday, but it was not returned before press time. Jacobi previously stated he will not provide public comment on drug court.
Special Prosecutor Chad Lewis from Jefferson County, Ind., has been appointed to determine whether or not to file any criminal charges related to an investigation into drug court by Indiana State Police.
While the ISP investigation has not been publicly disclosed, Stewart’s petition to appoint the prosecutor did confirm that troopers “ ... had opened an investigation relating to allegations of abuses by officers and employees of Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Drug Court, including allegations which may constitute crimes under Indiana Law.”
The News and Tribune has reported about multiple issues with the drug court — including inmates spending months longer in jail than they should have without seeing a judge or receiving legal counsel — and abuse of power by staff members. Jacobi fired court director Susan Knoebel and suspended court bailiff Jeremy Snelling indefinitely without pay. Knoebel has said she has been made a scapegoat in the case.
Through Stewart’s petition, Clark County Circuit Court No. 3 Judge Joe Weber was designated to appoint a special prosecutor.
Seigel said the IJC will keep up to date with the validity of the claims of mistreatment.
“Should the allegations involving drug court practices prove to be unfounded, the Judicial Center will lift the suspension and work with you to restore drug court operations,” according to the letter.
Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart said his office has not received official notification that the program has been decertified. He said it remains uncertain how the about 75 participants currently in the drug court program will be supervised now that the program has been suspended.
“... We are going to have to follow the lead of the Indiana Judicial Center to let us know what options are available, at this point,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the status for those participants nearing completion of the program would be “wrapped up very quickly.” But, for those who recently entered the program, Clark County officials will look to the IJC for guidance, Stewart said.
The Office of the Clark County Prosecutor stopped recommending those arrested for drug offenses for the program about several months ago, he said.
The Clark County Drug Court program is three-phased program made available to some nonviolent offenders with histories of substance abuse. Many of those who successfully complete the program are able to avoid prison terms.
Stewart said the virtual cessation of placing those eligible into the program is a partly due to defense attorneys not having an interest in placing their clients into the program, which was certified by the IJC on May 30.
“We were generally aware of the defense attorneys and the public defender’s office expressing grave concerns of the how the program was being run,” Stewart said. “Of course, we [prosecutors] has no control over that. We couldn’t change their [drug court staff] policies as far as accepting people into the program. Their objective was have as many people in the program as possible. That is not my objective. It is not the prosecutor’s office objective.”
Stewart said a properly-operated drug court program is beneficial to the community and he is hopeful the program will return to Clark County.
“I don’t have any problem with having a drug court program. It is certainly appropriate in a number of cases,” Stewart said. “I believe in appropriate cases it can work. It can drastically change somebody’s life. It can lower the recidivism rate, [and] that is ultimately what we are working toward here in the prosecutor’s office.”