1997 proved to be a critical year for NADCP, a year to consolidate the gains of the previous activist years, focusing on establishing a standardized drug court model and institutionalizing the Drug Court on local, state, and national levels
THE DECISION TO REMAIN AT NADCP
As I approached my second year (January 1997) as President of the D.C.-based non-profit, NADCP, I had a decision to make. I had been granted a single year’s leave of absence, in order to go to Washington, and build an ‘education and training organization”. That was my charge and I had done better than I could have imagined. But the year was almost over. I had to decide whether to stay or go home.
Beyond the finality of resigning from my judgeship at the age of fifty. There were the financial penalties I would suffer if I stayed in D.C. My pension would be frozen at eight years, rather than the potential 20-year pension that I would otherwise receive at retirement. On top of that, I would remain a municipal court judge, while all municipal court judges in California were to be uniformly elevated to the Superior court. [In ’96, the legislature had put Proposition 220 on the ballot, the “Trial Court Consolidation Act”, which created a single Superior Court Bench in California.]
Against those penalties, I weighed the possibility of building an organization that could be the base for widespread reform of the criminal justice system. NADCP was sitting at the table along with other organizations, (respected and even feared a bit), putting on major conferences, working the hill as extremely effective lobbyists, the subject of admiration and approval of politicians on both sides of the aisles, training drug court practitioners across the nation through JMI training conferences and NADCP Mentor Sites, and continuing to make astonishing progress, by expanding the number of courts in the field, as well as their scope and reach across the nation.
It was a painful decision, though one that was never really much in doubt. I wrote the Oakland Presiding Judge, at the time, Carlos Ynoztroza, and AOC Director Bill Vickrey, letters of resignation from the California Bench.
PLANNING FOR A DRUG COURT STANDARDS COMMITTEE
Conceptually, national standards were at the very heart of NADCP. By the end of 1996, there was a growing acceptance of drug courts in the criminal justice system. It was clear to some that we ran the risk of having the field hijacked by other organizations. The greater danger was always that the concept would be subverted and co-opted by existing court bureaucracies and structures. Most courts are rigid institutions, full of functionaries who are reluctant to make changes.
There was no question, that Drug Court would be a major challenge for the courts. For too many, the way to implement a reform was to do as little as possible. In the case of Drug Courts, it could simply be adding drug court signage in front of a court department, and continue on as before. It has happened over and over throughout the history of reform. The existing conventional approach usurps and swallows reform whole, leaving little more than superficial change.
Developing field wide standards was critical to maintaining the integrity of the Drug Court Model and an important way to move Drug Court reform forward. Laurie Robinson wanted NADCP to promulgate standards, and so did I. Standards could be used to enlighten the field as to how a Drug Court optimally works, and inform potential mentor court sites of the parameters required for their model (and be part of the requirements for future drug court grant applications.)