BY ALAN RIQUELMY

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.com

–­–

While many courtrooms can be said to have a revolving door, organizers of the Muscogee County Drug Court hope that stops being the case for some in Columbus.

Today is the first session of Drug Court — an alternative to the prosecution, sentencing and prison time many defendants face in Muscogee County Superior Court. It’s different from a typical criminal court because those who plead guilty don’t go to prison — they go through treatment while out of jail.

And if they successfully complete the program, their convictions can be wiped clean.

“They call it ‘the courtroom drama,’ ” Judge Frank Jordan Jr. said of the weekly court procedures. “The participants all come and see who’s failing and who’s complying. That is a key thing — coming to court and either being praised or sanctioned by the judge.”

Muscogee County already has other “accountability courts” such as the Environmental, Mental Health and Juvenile Drug Court, but this is the first adult Drug Court for Columbus.

It starts with a referral to Larry Love, the Drug Court’s coordinator. He examines potential candidates for the court and sends them to Assistant District Attorney David Helmick, who is the program’s gatekeeper for the district attorney’s office, Jordan said.

If the district attorney thinks someone is a good candidate — a first or second drug offense that isn’t violent or related to trafficking or gangs — that person has the option to enter Drug Court.

Those who want to enter Drug Court sign a contract and pledge to remain drug-free. They also agree to attend a series of drug treatment classes and 12-step meetings over several months.

And, of course, the weekly Drug Court sessions.

“For example, someone signs the contract and enters Drug Court,” Jordan said. “Since then, he’s remained drug-free, attended all the meetings and he’s in compliance. If that’s the case, he gets a round of applause, or the judge comes down and shakes his hand. There’s some reward — positive reinforcement.”

Those who aren’t in compliance, the ones who fail a drug test or miss meetings, are punished. They may have to spend a weekend in jail or sit in court all day.

Drug Court is paid for by the participants. Attendees pay $500 over the first six weeks in administrative costs and $700 over six months for the Rediscovery Outpatient Substance Abuse Clinic.

Participants start out with two two-hour treatment classes and four one-hour 12-step meetings a week. As they progress through the program, participants’ classes and meetings become fewer and the payments become smaller.

The last six months of the program are less rigorous than the first, and the successful completion of Drug Court means the county has one less drug user.

Jordan said the court saves taxpayers the cost of prosecution and supervisory probation. The families of drug users will see that addicts are improving their lives.

“Those are the intangible but real effects that are hard to quantify and measure,” the judge said.

Jordan isn’t sure how many people will go through Drug Court. He said other courts have advised him and his team to take it slow.

Macon has about 150 people in its Drug Court, Jordan said. Glynn County has 270.

While the first session of Drug Court is scheduled for today, regular sessions will be held 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays.

Contact Alan Riquelmy at 706-571-8622

 by Dean Dyer/WRWH

CLEVELAND – A Family Drug Court could soon be set up in the Enotah Judicial Circuit to help better deal with the family drug situation in the area. That information, along with a better insight into how the courts, law enforcement and local citizens are working to deal with drug and child abuse and other crimes, was revealed during a forum held Monday in Cleveland.Enotah Superior Court Judge Lynn Alderman announced a program she and Juvenile Court Judge David Turk are working on to help better address the drug cases that come before them. Alderman said they will be working with the Department of Family and Children Services on this program the goes beyond what they are now offering giving those seeking treatment up to 24 months to kick the addiction.

Alderman says this program is modeled after similar programs in Hall and other counties. In addition to Alderman, others on the panel were Juvenile Judge David Turk, Susan Zealy, Enotah CASA Director , White County Sheriff Neal Walden, Sharon Lee and Milisa Fincher with the White County Meth Task Force.

Zealy told the group that in White County right now they have 43 open cases of child abuse that involves 65 children and they need additional CASA volunteers to be advocates for these children in court.

©Copyright 2007 AccessNorthGa.com / WDUN News/Talk 550.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

By STEPHEN GURR
The Times
GAINESVILLE

PhotoScott Rogers The Times

Judge Jason Deal, right, roasts Michael Devine, left, as Devine was seated on stage alongside his wife, Kit, during Tuesday night’s Friends of Recovery Banquet at First Presbyterian Church

Michael Devine’s life took a few twists and turns before he ended up as the guest of honor at a banquet Tuesday night.Devine, who was director of treatment services for Hall County’s drug and DUI courts before entering seminary at Emory University two weeks ago, spent most of the night wearing his trademark smile as he was alternately praised and roasted by a panel of Hall County judges and prosecutors during a farewell fundraiser.

Devine, 46, later spoke openly of his life as a recovering addict, who at 25 was snorting an “eight-ball” (one-eighth of an ounce) of methamphetamine a week and drinking up to a case of beer a day when he tried to commit suicide.

“It’s an amazing gift for me to be here,” said Devine, clean and sober since March 1990. “You can’t come to this place without God’s help.”

Devine was lauded Tuesday as a counselor who offered addicts in the local judicial system hope through his own story of recovery and redemption. He turned skeptics of drug court into believers, Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said.

“I went from looking at it as a hug-a-thug program to really becoming involved in drug court because of Mike,” Deal said.

Said Court Administrator Reggie Forrester, “Mike has shown you can take the rustiest nail in the barnyard, and with enough care make it shine as much as any nail in the cabinet.”

Devine didn’t make it through the night without considerable ribbing.

Hall County Solicitor-General Larry Baldwin, poking fun at Devine’s penchant for writing long-winded policy manuals, commented, “when Mike quit, a local paper mill went out of business.”

Tuesday’s event was held at First Presbyterian Church as a fundraiser for Friends of Recovery, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping recovering addicts who have gone through Hall County’s various accountability courts. The group focuses on drug and DUI court participants who don’t have a support network of family or friends to help them stay clean and sober, Friends of Recovery chairwoman Stephanie Woodard said.

“I can’t think of a better way to extend a hand of friendship to people who feel they have no friends,” Woodard said.

Losing Devine to a higher calling is tough to take, she said.

“He has such unique skills and perspective,” she said.

Baldwin seemed to be only half-joking when he said, “Mike truly may be irreplaceable. He put in his notice six months ago and we still haven’t found a replacement.”

Contact: sgurr@gainesvilletimes.com, (770) 718-3428.

Originally published Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Amelia Hines

WNEG NewsCHANNEL 32

Friday, August 24, 2007

Judge David Sweat has seen a lot of criminals during his five years on the bench in Clarke County.  But he sees even more of repeat offenders.  He says sometimes he gets 3 or 4 each week in his courtroom alone.

“These individuals are what we call in the justice system “frequent flyers.”  They’re in and out.  They’re coming back again and again,” Sweat tells NewsChannel 32.

These frequent flyers are also known to be criminals who have mental illnesses like schizophrenia or manic-depression.  Others have drug addictions that lead them to commit offenses. 

“It can be anything from criminal trespass which is being in some place after you’ve been barred.”

Others get caught passing forged checks for a little cash or petty theft.

In most cases, these offenders are just trying to get by the only way they know how.

“They may be homeless; there may be very few options.  And the only option in the past we’ve had to offer them is jail time.  And jail doesn’t address the problems that lead to their criminal behavior,” Judge Sweat says.

Sweat has been working 2 years to get a grant to stop this cycle.  He says a $45,000 grant will help start a program to deal with these types of offenders.  Part of that program is setting up a “Mental Health Court.”

After offenders are released from jails and hospitals, they aren’t left to fend for themselves like before.  Through the “Treatment and Accountability” Court, they’ll have judicial supervision to help them transition back into the community.

That supervision will include weekly visits to keep updates on their status.  The program will also help them seek treatment for problems and hold them accountable if they slip up.

But it doesn’t end there; other agencies throughout the community will be there to help them along the way.

If everything goes as planned, the “Treatment and Accountability” Court will be running by early 2008.

Article: http://www.wneg32.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WNEG/MGArticle/NEG_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1173352497701&path=

New program combines lots of help for long-term offenders, tough sanctions


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/17/07

Two defendants showed up drunk this summer at the Fulton County Courthouse.While that’s never a good idea, it’s especially problematic considering it was their first day in a new program for repeat DUI offenders.State Court Judge Susan Forsling says the men’s condition in court underscores the grip of addiction and the need for courts to find creative solutions to break the dangerous cycle of drinking and driving. She and Judge Brenda Cole have agreed to head Fulton County’s inaugural DUI Court program, which got under way in June combining some jail time with intensive treatment and heavy monitoring. The program, with a startup budget of $45,000, is funded through county and state money and participant fees. The first class includes a defendant with 14 prior DUI convictions. When he appeared before Forsling last month she somberly said: “You have failed the system and the system has failed you.” The man wept.But as the judge addressed her new class Aug. 9, she tempered her judgment with humor and hope. She assembled probation officers and mental health counselors and talked with each defendant about his or her problems. One man seemed surprised the judge knew that he and his wife were separated and he was having trouble finding a place to live due to his criminal record.“There’s not going to be too much about your life that I don’t know about,” Forsling said with a laugh.

Barbara Lattimore, director of Fulton County’s mental health department, said two main things help stop recidivism: peer support and heavy sanctions. Her employees are part of the DUI Court program, providing one-on-one and group counseling to help participants explore the reasons they drink. Participants also face frequent drug screenings, random home visits by probation officers and court hearings before a judge who gets to know them personally.

Georgia has a dozen DUI Courts, including programs in Gwinnett, Cherokee, Clayton, Hall and Rockdale counties. It’s part of a national trend to move toward courts that tackle special problems. Fulton officials are modeling their program after the one in Athens-Clarke County.

The judge there, Kent Lawrence, started Georgia’s first DUI Court in February 2001 and is considered a national expert, recently speaking before a congressional committee in Washington. Lawrence is a former police officer and police chief in Clarke County who worked plenty of alcohol-fueled fatal wrecks and was motivated to find a solution.

“I’ve had victims die in my arms,” he said. “I’ve had to knock on doors and tell their parents or their spouses their loved one just died because of an alcohol-related wreck. It’s usually the same reaction: they fall on their knees and start screaming.”

Lawrence remembers those haunting images when drunk drivers stand before him in his courtroom and he sentences them to jail. But, like Judge Forsling, he is also driven by compassion to get to the root of what draws the alcoholic to the bottle.

“They’re not bad people,” Forsling said. “They don’t wake up that morning and say: ‘I’m going to get in my car, crash and kill somebody.’ “

Statewide, impaired drivers were involved in crashes that killed nearly 545 people in 2005, the last year for which figures were available, said Alvin Shultz, epidemiologist for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Bob Dallas, the Highway Safety office’s director, said the Athens judge is helping break the cycle.

“It’s a program that seems to show success for a very difficult offender — someone who has been drinking and driving for years,” Dallas said.

Someone like Alpharetta area resident Justin Dinsmore, 30.

He admits he started drinking at age 12 and drove drunk in at least three counties for years, crashing cars, a motorcycle and four-wheelers. He said he got into several high-speed chases with police, but usually outran them in his high-powered Mustang.

But as he sped recklessly through Athens a few years ago, police closed in and Dinsmore found himself standing before Judge Lawrence.

As Dinsmore recalls, the judge was irate, tossing the four-time convicted drunk driver into the slammer for 15 months. That’s when Dinsmore said he had an epiphany: “I’m either going to be dead or in jail the rest of my life if I keep this up.” He thought about his dreams for a wife and kids and how he needed to be sober and responsible to make that happen.

The judge was there to help. He said you can often see participants begin to make life changes in up to three months.

“It’s like a light bulb,” the judge said. “It gives us chills. Their attitude changes and their appearance changes.”

Dinsmore completed the DUI Court program in 13 months and says he’s been sober for two years.

“This isn’t a program for a first offender. It’s for someone like me, someone on their last leg,” Dinsmore said of the structured program, which includes surprise home visits and lots of drug screenings. “It put me on the path of where I needed to go.”

Veteran defense attorney William “Bubba” Head, known nationally for his specialty in DUI law, said he has qualms about the program, which requires defendants to plead guilty to DUI charges.

“If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t do the program,” said Head, who often prefers to take his clients’ cases to trial.

He said he worries that the program is too rigid and if a participant fails to show up to court, fails a screening or doesn’t check in with his or her probation officer, they’ll end up kicked out of the program and behind bars for up to two years.

The judges in Athens and Atlanta say there are other types of sanctions besides revoking the defendant’s probation, which is reserved for more serious violations.

Head acknowledges that more needs to be done to stop drunk driving.

“It can destroy your life,” said the lawyer, whose DUI clients have included clergy, teachers and Supreme Court justices in several states.

To view the entire article: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2007/08/17/dui_0818.html 

Tuesday August 14, 2:45 pm ET

Study examines the impact of a single drug court on the total population of drug court-eligible offenders over a 10-year period in Portland, Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the principal advocacy organization for 20,000 drug court practitioners nationwide, supports the findings of NPC Research, funded under a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Department of Justice, drawn from a comprehensive ten year drug court study. The “Multnomah County Drug Court” in Portland, Oregon, is the second oldest in the United States. The study titled The Impact of a Mature Drug Court over 10 Years of Operation: Recidivism and Costs shows significantly reduced recidivism for drug court participants up to 14 years after drug court entry and major cost savings to tax payers.Research Results:

    -- The drug court significantly reduced the incidence and        frequency of criminal recidivism for participants compared to        offenders who did not participate.              -- The incidence of re-arrest was reduced by nearly 30%                after five years.      -- Investment costs in the drug court program were $1,392 less per        person than the investment costs of court "business-as-usual."              -- Savings due to reduced recidivism for drug court                participants totaled more than $79 million over the                10-year period.      -- Drug court judges that worked longer with the drug court had        better participant outcomes. Judges that rotated through the        drug court twice had better participant outcomes the second        time than the first.      This study covers the period from program start in 1991 through     2001. The entire population of offenders identified as eligible     for drug court by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office     from 1991 to 2001 was tracked through a variety of administrative     data systems. Approximately 11,000 cases were identified; 6,500     participated in the drug court program during that period and     4,600 had their case processed outside the drug court model. Data     on outcomes were gathered on each offender, with a particular     emphasis on criminal recidivism per participant. The outcome data     were drawn in late 2005 and early 2006, allowing a minimum of 5     years of follow-up on all cohorts and more than 10 years on many     cohorts. Data on costs were calculated in terms of investment     costs, outcome costs over 5 years, and total costs.

“This study validates the long-term effectiveness of drug courts through reduced drug use and criminal recidivism as well as cost savings to the community,” said West Huddleston, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). “Simply put, drug courts save lives, reduce crime and save tax payers money. The Multnomah County Drug Court has demonstrated once again that drug court is the best solution for addicted citizens caught in the justice system. Drug courts must be taken to scale; ensuring all addicted offenders in every county in America receives the best chance of a drug and crime-free future.”

About NADCP

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) and the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) are responsible for advocacy, training, research and scholarship on behalf of drug courts nationwide. With more than 1,900 drug courts nationwide, and 500 more in planning stages, drug courts have experienced phenomenal success and tremendous growth by reducing substance abuse, crime and recidivism. Since 1994, NADCP has represented over 20,000 judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment providers and rehabilitation experts, law enforcement and corrections personnel, educators, researchers and community leaders.

For more information, visit www.nadcp.org.

Contact:

NADCP Jennifer Columbel, 703-575-9400, ext 14 cell: 703-731-0966

(to view article)...http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/070814/20070814006095.html?.v=1 

 

NADCP is pleased to announce…

CSG Justice Center Updates Mental Health Court Website Featuring BJA Learning Sites

The Council of State Governments Justice Center has updated its mental health court website to make information on the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) learning sites more accessible. These five mental health courts, which have been serving as learning sites since being selected by BJA in June 2006, are:

  • Akron Municipal Mental Health Court (OH)
  • Bonneville County Mental Health Court (ID)
  • Bronx County Mental Health Court (NY)
  • Dougherty Superior Court (GA)
  • Washoe County Mental Health Court (NV)

The learning sites host site visits, hold conference calls, and respond to e-mail inquiries from people interested in starting a mental health court or improving their current program. The learning sites also work with the Justice Center, the technical assistance provider for this program, to improve their own processes and procedures. Snapshots of each of the learning sites, along with longer program descriptions, can now be downloaded on the website to help potential visitors to select a learning site.

All of the information needed to set up a visit is also accessible on the site. Interested parties can consult the site visit calendar, which lists some of the dates that are available for visits, and can download a visit request form and submit it to Lauren Almquist (almquist@csg.org or fax: 212-383-5743). The Justice Center has created a site visit observation tool to guide jurisdictions through their visits, as well as an evaluation form to report on the visits’ usefulness.

The Justice Center’s mental health court website also houses other resources, such as the BJA mental health court publications, links to relevant media articles and research, and a link to the Justice Center’s mental health court survey. The Justice Center encourages court personnel to complete a survey so that their programs may be profiled in the Justice Center’s Criminal Justice / Mental Health Information Network (InfoNet), a comprehensive database that inventories programs, research, and media. Click here for more information on the InfoNet.

To view the Justice Center’s mental health court webpage, visit http://consensusproject.org/mhcp.

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen, © AP

The Associated Press, Jun 17, 12:09 PM EST

WASHINGTON – Martin Sheen says a drug court saved the life of a friend of his who was self-destructing from drug and alcohol abuse.

The actor was in Washington this past week to urge Congress to provide funding for drug courts, which provide addicts with lifesaving alternatives to prison.

Sheen told George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he used his friend, whom he did not name, as an example as someone whose addiction could have led to death.

“At a critical point, I had to decide who would speak at the funeral, who should carry the casket,” he said. “You have to be prepared to say ‘I did everything that I possibly could.’

“Well, I had not yet. I had one more option, and that was drug court. That’s what saved his life, and mine,” Sheen said.

He said a large percentage of prison inmates are incarcerated for committing crime under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

“So it’s a very serious problem and very costly,” he said. “And the monies that are spent on drug court and training and in rehab, the dollars are the biggest bargain you can possibly get in public health.”

By Sandy Hodson| Staff Writer

Sunday, January 14, 2007

storyTools();

Change is coming to the Augusta Judicial Circuit, the first in decades. storyPhotos();

Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff

Incoming Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet said the judges recognize the need for diversity in the courtroom.

Click photo for options

One of the first changes the Superior Court judges will initiate is filling the juvenile court judge’s position in Richmond County that has been vacant since Judge Herbert Kernighan Jr. died.

The judges are contemplating asking two or more attorneys to serve part time instead of choosing just one. And for the first time, those with business in the court might see a woman or a black judge on the bench.

In a recent interview with Chronicle editors, incoming Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet said the Superior Court judges, who decide who fills the four-year juvenile judgeships, acknowledge the need for diversity in the job. The judges have always been older, white men in the past.

All applications were due Friday, Judge Overstreet said.

Another change some would like to see realized in the Augusta circuit is the creation of drug courts. Instead of sentencing drug offenders to prison or probation to succeed or fail on their own, drug courts closely supervise defendants and provide intensive treatment and counseling, and drug testing.

It would require a commitment of the judges and someone would have to supervise, Judge Overstreet said.

He estimated that drugs are responsible for the majority of criminal cases: people using or selling drugs, stealing or otherwise committing crimes to buy drugs, or committing crimes while under the influence of drugs.

“You’ve got to try something,” Judge Overstreet said.

How the judges conduct business in Superior Court also could change. Judge Overstreet said case management, not case assignment, needs overhauling.

“We just have to get on into the 21st century,” he said.

He said he hopes the court clerks’ current computer program can be updated to include case management.

Right now the judges have only a manual system of hauling cases from the entry point of arraignment to conclusion, Judge Overstreet said.

That wasn’t difficult when the circuit was small, but it’s now nearly impossible with the thousands of cases in the system.

The eight Superior Court judges also will vote on the local rules of court this spring. These rules spell out how the judges divide and assign cases.

Currently, the five judges with the most seniority are assigned to preside over civil and criminal cases. The three remaining judges are responsible for domestic cases such as divorce and child custody.

One of the biggest changes already discussed is mediation – Alternative Dispute Resolution – for domestic court cases.

In a meeting Thursday with Richmond County officials, several judges outlined their plans.

Judge Overstreet said he signed the documents earlier this month that join the Augusta circuit with the surrounding 10th Judicial District’s program.

People filing for divorce will go through the mediation process, which can be faster and cheaper than the current judicial procedure.

It should make the process less adversarial and reduce the caseloads of judges, Judge Overstreet said.

Judge Duncan D. Wheale said courts in Athens have been using mediation successfully for about 10 years.

The use of mediation might also be expanded to civil cases. Judge James G. Blanchard said it could be especially helpful to resolve cases that have been pending several years. That often happens because the parties can neither reach a settlement nor justify the expense of trial. The case stalemates, he said.

It is also difficult for complex civil cases to get to trial because of limited courtroom space, Judge Overstreet said. Richmond and Columbia counties have only two courtrooms, and Burke County has one.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

CHANGES

Possible changes for the Augusta Judicial Circuit:

- Fill vacant juvenile court judge position

- Creation of drug courts

- Overhaul of case management with new software for court clerks’ computers

- Vote on local rules of court

- Implementing mediation for domestic court cases and possibly civil cases

From the Monday, January 15, 2007 edition of the Augusta Chronicle

By Tim Sturrock
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER

Judge Tommy Day Wilcox at a hearing in November.

Woody Marshall, The Telegraph

Judge Tommy Day Wilcox at a hearing in November.

After 25 years making decisions that helped shape thousands of lives, Tommy Day Wilcox is moving on.

Wilcox, the second-longest serving Superior Court judge in Bibb County, said his experiences on the bench changed his life.

“I have become more understanding of the trials and tribulations of the everyday common person,” he said. “It can be a mean old world to try to live in sometimes, and I clearly understand that now.”

Wilcox, 64, is known for his efficiency, dry wit, compassion and creation of the first drug court in Georgia, which gives drug offenders the option of treatment instead of punishment. Similar drug courts now exist in at least 10 counties in Georgia including Lamar, Monroe and Laurens, he said.

A swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for today when Tripp Self, who won in a runoff against Ed Ennis last month, will officially take Wilcox’s spot on the bench.

In retiring from day-to-day court proceedings, Wilcox will now serve as a senior judge working part-time. He said he likely will continue presiding over the case of two men accused of fatally shooting Bibb County sheriff’s deputy Joseph Whitehead in March.

Wilcox, whose undergraduate and law degrees are from Mercer University, said he plans to become a legal mediator as well.

Wilcox, who grew up in Abbeville and is married with two children, worked nine years in a private law practice, taking one case to the U.S. Supreme Court, before becoming a judge in 1981.

He found aspects of the job rewarding such as the drug court and adoptions. In his last year as a full-time judge, Wilcox assigned himself the responsibility of overseeing major felony cases. Yet, he says he won’t miss his role of sentencing criminals, which he admits finding difficult.

“It’s not easy,” he said of sentencing people. “You get to know the (defendant), even if it’s a brief period of time, and you have to sit there and weigh that person’s life with what has happened to the victim. And it’s different in every single case.”

WILCOX KNOWN AS HARD WORKER

Wilcox gained a reputation for his hard work, even working for about a year in the mid-1980s while he had lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. Wilcox would sometimes return to Macon to work the day after receiving treatment in Maryland.

“I was hard-headed, and if I was getting paid, I wanted to work,” he said. “That was a tough regiment to say the least, but that’s who I am.”

Linda Mosteller, his former secretary, said Wilcox was always conscientious about spending the county’s money.

Wilcox never succumbed to “robe-itus,” an arrogance about being a judge, she said. Sentences weighed heavily on him, she said.

“It shouldn’t be easy for someone to sit on the bench and sentence people to 20 to 30 years,” she said. “It affects the families a lot, too. He knows it’s not just the person it affects.”

Wilcox said the drug court he created in 1994 probably kept him from retiring earlier. The court offers drug offenders a one-year program that includes counseling and drug tests.

Wilcox started the court after getting the idea from an Athens conference. Since then, more than 1,000 people have graduated from the program.

“It was a salvation for me, because there you really got the sense you were helping people,” he said. “What a nice feeling to say at the end of the day, ‘They didn’t have a job. Now maybe we can get them a job.’ “

Wilcox said he still hears from people about how the drug court changed their lives.

Sixty percent of participants ended up failing parts of the agreement, he said.

“There, the sentencing was easier because you felt like you had truly given them a chance,” he said.

Bibb County Public Defender Lee Robinson said the drug court is Wilcox’s legacy.

“It’s difficult for (judges) to leave a legacy because they’re basically referees,” he said. “It’s a significant contribution to our community as a whole.”

“When he established it, it was a new idea and it takes someone with the kind of clout he has to get it off the ground,” Robinson said.

Robinson also credited Wilcox with maintaining a high standard of courtesy in the court, something he said has deteriorated in courts elsewhere in Georgia.

Wilcox said he never tried to lecture people but expected lawyers to be on time, not to talk when others were speaking and to show courtesy in the courtroom.

“If someone is talking … I just always say ‘OK, if y’all are having an important conversation, I’ll just sit here and wait until y’all finish your conversation then we’ll start again,’ ” he said.

The judge’s dry wit was another fixture that local attorneys remember about Wilcox’s time on the bench.

Bibb County District Attorney Howard Simms recalls being in court when a man went before Wilcox on a DUI felony charge.

The man was in his late 70s or early 80s and was eligible for first-offender status, which would clear his record. Wilcox suggested the man ask his lawyer about it.

Simms said that Wilcox explained dryly: “I would think that at your age it would be nice to check out with a clean slate.”

But Simms also remembers moments when Wilcox showed other emotions.

As the last Bibb County Superior Court judge to pronounce a death sentence in 1987, Wilcox’s voiced broke when he told Keith Patillo he would be put to death.

The sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Wilcox admitted to being brought to tears by some of his cases, though he wouldn’t comment about specific cases.

Wilcox, who has plans to split his time between a farm in Wilcox County and his home in Bibb County, said he wants to keep his retirement low key.

“I came here over 25 year ago very quietly, and I would really like to leave very quietly,” he said.

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