The following article was published in 2009, in an attempt to define the importance of the Judge within the framework of a Community-Based Court (Drug, Mental Health, DUI Court, etc.), describing both the importance and limitations of the judicial position.
About fifteen years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in a judge’s manual (J. Tauber, Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual, CJER; 1994). I wrote, ” A drug Court provides direction and focus through the leadership of a single judge”. A statement writ large, and in retrospect, an overstatement of the importance of the drug court judge. For while, the drug court judge is an important reason for the success of the drug court, he or she acts more an enabler than director. The major actor is “community” itself.
In effect, the drug court judge creates an environment in which successful drug court “communities” can thrive; where a “drug court team” comes together to institutionalize community-based structures for long-term success, and where a “community ” of drug court practitioners and participants exert systemic control over substantial numbers of serious drug offenders. So I suppose, if I were to write a definition of a Drug Court Judge today, it might simply read, ” a judge is the first among equals in a “drug court community”. [Note: the Drug Court Judge is generally described as a drug court practitioner and a member of the “Drug Court Team”, unless otherwise indicated.)
Over the past fifteen years much has happened in the drug court field. Over 2500 drug courts and other problem solving courts have been established. Both NADCP and NDCI now serve the field. And while I presided over my first Drug Court in 1990, I’ve learned a great deal over the years watching, listening and talking to thousands of drug court practitioners and participants across the country and around the globe. The world of the Drug Court, as well as the drug court practitioner and participant have changed irrevocably and continue to evolve.
I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court described is already in place to a substantial extent in every Drug Court in this country. We don’t always recognize the characteristics that define these court programs as community-involved, institutionalized, or systemic, but they are there. And while not all Drug Courts or Problem-Solving Courts have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that most successful ones are doing so. [Though the analysis focuses largely on the Drug Court, it is in most cases equally applicable to Problem-Solving Courts in general.]
This article is designed to give you a candid insider’s analysis of the role of the Drug Court Judge [DCJ] in the Community-Based Drug Court. In it, I will attempt to discuss the political, emotional, psychological and personal issues that many drug court or problem-solving court judges face. I will provide straightforward text and then one judge’s perspective (found in bold type)