For 35 years I served as a judge. My last opportunity for public service came unexpectedly as a result of tragedy. The Chief Justice of our Supreme Court appointed me to fill in for Judge Andrew Adams after he and Judge Jacobs were shot. For several months I walked in Judge Adams’ moccasins.
I was deeply impressed with the staff he had recruited. They served citizens, attorneys, and me exceptionally well, while praying for the safe return of their beloved boss. As a Senior Judge I filled in at nearly all the courts in all the nearby counties. Judge Adams’ court was among the friendliest and most efficient I have encountered.
The most challenging task was filling in for Judge Adams in Veterans’ Treatment Court. The Veterans’ Treatment Court was started by Judge Maria Granger of Floyd County. Judge Adams, a former U.S. Marine, partnered with her to bring the benefits of this lifesaving program to Clark County.
Veterans’ Treatment Courts are one type of “problem-solving courts.” They offer a second chance for persons whose offenses may stem from addiction, mental health issues or both. Participants earn dismissal of charges, if they successfully complete a long-term rehabilitation program under the supervision of a team of therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, mentors and representatives of the prosecutor’s and public defenders’ offices. A judge acts as team leader. Judges must volunteer for this especially challenging non-traditional work. It is above and beyond their normal judicial duties.
The team decides as a group who to admit to the program, the best way to help the individual, the right mixture of encouragement and accountability, who is “faking it,” who is sincere, who is ready to graduate, and who needs to be expelled. The team also plans motivational group activities and honors participants’ achievements. It takes a team, both professionals and volunteers, to successfully get people back on the right path. It takes a judge with the humility of a servant leader and more than the traditional skill set to lead such a team. A “know-it-all” judge lacking humility and respect for others’ views would be fatal to the team effort.
Before court the judge reviews reports and moderates a discussion among team members on how each person is doing and what needs to be addressed. In court the judge talks to each one individually and calls on team members to help guide the participant. Participants also help each other. If a judge does it wrong, it can set a person back. Judge Granger was a master at doing it right. I saw grateful tears on faces of people whose lives she helped save. I heard from team members and participants how equally effective Judge Adams was in fostering these same miracles, especially because he could relate veteran to veteran to these men and women who have served our country.
Judge Adams also started a similar program for non-vets facing similar problems. This means more cases and more challenging work because of lack of V.A. resources. Sponsoring a treatment court is no resume padding publicity stunt. It is hard work requiring patience, compassion, empathy and the ability to work respectfully with other professionals who might have a different perspective. These are skills Judge Adams has demonstrated and his opponent notoriously lacks. The temperament of his opponent would be poison to the program. I enthusiastically support the re-election of Judge Adams for all the good he will continue to do if you give him a chance, as he has given so many.
Steven M. Fleece, former Superior Court and Senior Judge, Retired, Charlestown