How important is the judge in drug court? Couldnt
you succeed in treatment without a judge?
Brooklyn (Hon. Jo Ann Ferdinand)
The comments of the Brooklyn Treatment Court participants referred to
the mix of attributes they saw in Judge Jo Ann Ferdinands approach
in court. Some emphasized the belief that she really cared or treated
them like a person.
- Shell say, I see you gained a little weight. She
looks at YOU. She dont just look at you like youre an addict.
. . . She recognizes the progress you made.
- She helps, she cares, she wants you to get your life together.
- She was nice to me too. Shes a sweetheart.
- At first, her being a judge. She does her job very well. But at the
same time, she treats me as a human being.
- Youre not a number, you are an actual person.
- She good because she gets to know you after a while. . . . She know
your lies . . . ha, ha.
Some participants emphasized the fact that the judge appeared to give
them chances that they might not otherwise have gotten:
- I mean, she gave chances.
- Shes beautiful because when I first got here and she said, I
could have taken you to trial and won. . . . but she was lenient.
- She gives you chances.
- And you know the judge, she okay; she a good judge cause she
give chances; but when she get mad, she get mad and you know what. .
. . I dont want to go through that no more.
Others explained that the judge was fair but firm and would take action
- The only time you see a different side of her is when you really
push her. Other than that, she believes in you if you believe in yourself.
- I never had no problem with her.
- She can get bad if she wants to. . . . You do the right thing and
do what youre supposed to do, and shes okay.
- She knows. . . . I tried to play her a couple of times but I couldnt
- She knows your every move. She knows what youre doin even
if you think she dont know. When you get to court she knows.
When asked whether it was really necessary to have a single judge or
even whether other officials or a probation officer could do the same
job, participants were quite clear that no other approach would have the
- Shes the woman. Shes the man. Theres no in between
thing from the judge.
- The judge is a role model figure, a symbol of authority. . . . A lot
of us wouldnt be here if it was a probation officer.
- A probation officer couldnt do it. No way. . . . I could beat
him any time.
- They wouldnt have the authority to do what she can do.
- Even substitute judges cant see how we are. They just read.
Las Vegas (Hon. Jack Lehman)
Whether they professed admiration for the drug court judge or not, Las
Vegas participants made it clear that their main connection or point of
reference to the drug court was the drug court judge. In their responses
to questions about the judges role in the drug court, focus group
participants showed that they were continually reacting to the judges
expectations, his style, his actions, and the way he held them accountable
for their performance in treatment:
- Disciplinarian. [Definitely need him to be] a disciplinarian. . .
- He will make you walk a straight line one way or another. . . .
- Yep, if he has to stand on you to get you to do it, hell do
- I know he needs to play that part instead of a probation officer.
. . .
- But even still, I wouldnt want his job cause some people
be telling the truth, you know. He got to make that decision being in a couple of minutes. Hell
sit up there 3, even 4, minutes sometime. You know he got a odd job, man.
You know it aint easy being up there on that chair.
- You know he got to be stressed out sometime too, you know. He hurt
just like everyone else, you know. . . .
- I was detoxing for 4 days and it really blew my mind. I mean I hated
him. I thought he was the devil. I thought he was the worst thing in
the world, you know, cause . . . I was just confused. And now
I look at him like, you know, hes saving peoples lives.
. . .
Las Vegas participants left little doubt that, from their perspectives,
the role of the judge was absolutely essential for the drug court to have
its desired effect. They point to the fact that the judge had the authority
and the power to hold all drug court participants accountable. Without
this central impact, participants felt the program would be ineffective
and fairly easy to defeat:
- A judge should be there. The fear of somebody, I mean the fear of
power. . . .
- A probation officer wouldnt have the authority to put you in
Las Vegas participants also seemed to be in agreement that the continuity
provided by having a single presiding judge in drug court was important
to the successful operation of the drug court, and that, otherwise, participants
were likely to try to get over on substitutes:
- [The judge] was absent that week and another judge took his place.
. . . I skated through that week. . . . It was like, the night before,
. . . whats going to happen, and then some substitute judge, and
he passes me over to the next week.
- The judge that was in there, Judge Lehman, had said the week before,
it was somebody that was in court, You know if you get a dirty
UA within this next week, youre going to jail. The next
judge [taking over for Judge Lehman] was in there and he was, like,
Okay, Judge Lehman said he was going to put you in jail, but,
you know, but Im not. If Lehman was there he would have
done that. Hes a man of his word.
- No, no, no way. Last week we had a substitute and . . . he was too
nice. Yeah, too nice. Rubbery.
- Right, he really didnt get it.
- You certainly need this. . . . It isnt somebody different every
- Yeah, cause he knows. He knew who I was. I had just gotten
off from jail from doing warrants.
Miami (Hon. Stanley Goldstein)
Miami focus group participants echoed this thematic view of the role
of the drug court judge among drug court participants:
- The judge is important because of the understanding, the compassion,
you know, because being an addict, its not like beating us on
the head and all that. . . .
- No other judge will be able to replace this guy. . . .
- I think thats why Goldsteins like that with his people.
. . . I been in other courts for different, other charges, and those
judges dont care about you. They just want to lock you up and
thats it. But Judge Goldstein makes it partly fun. . . . He jokes
with you. . . . Hes the only judge in the system that actually
do that with his people. Actually sit down beside you. You have a problem,
he comes and talks to you and he works something out for you.
- The probation officer . . . they dont have . . . the power
of a judge. . . . You have a lot of probation officers. . . . I try
to be fair with everybody. . . . Lot of probation officers today, they
look at you and . . . You either do what I tell you to do or .
. . thats that. You can judge a person. . . . A judge you
can basically go to, like they say, and talk your problems out. A probation
officer, he has one thing on his mind: going by the law. His hands are
- I think the judge plays the best part. . . . It all depends on what
particular case you going to be working on . . . but the judge there
hes like the, hes a referee, if the judge is not there .
. . it wont be a success without him . . . I dont know how
successful the program is, Im quite sure its successful,
but it wont be as successful as it is now without the judge.
- Hes that leader. . . . Hes a god.
In Portland, where there had been a recent period of rotation turnover
of many judges in drug court for relatively short periods, the view among
drug court participants was similar:
- The judge is there to represent all fairness. I dont want to
be in front of anybodys probation officer, mine or anybody elses,
because the necessity of fairness is not always there.
- Yeah, a judge is necessary to keep people in line, keep them showing
- It has to be a judge. Drug addicts like myself are too slick, you
know, I mean theres just been too many ways that I have gotten
over. A judge has the power of life and death and he can put you in
- I think we need a judge too. The people that are in the S.T.O.P.
program, a lot of them are recovering addicts and alcoholics, and they
work the 12-step program and its harder to get over on them [judges]
than it is a certain kind of probation officer or parole officer.
- You can get over on probation officers.
- If you have one judge that oversees this program and she is constant
then we all know what to expect, but when you have a whole lot of judges
coming in they dont know what youve been through or whats
really been happening with you.
- When they switched judges on us they brought back up the same issues
that I had already taken care of and then threatened me when I said
I had already discussed it with the other judge and that he knew what
was going on.
- When you have one judge they are able to track what you are doing
better. . . . One is better because you have a link. . . .
- When it is such a personal issue, it is nice to be recognized by
someone. I think that one judge is better because you already have a
rapport built up with him.
San Bernardino (Hon. Patrick Morris)
San Bernardino focus group participants expressed a similar mix of views
about the role of the drug court judge. First, they believed that he cared
about them individually:
- Judge Morris knows youhe makes sure that you know that he cares
about getting your help. With another judge you are just a statistic.
- He takes more time than the other judges weve had. We was in
court for 30 minutes and everybody was gone. But with Judge Morris,
he take the time to talk to you, like you said, the counselor, he basically
wants to know whats going on in your life.
- The judge, hes really nice. Since I been to court, Ive
never heard, well I heard him raise his voice just a little, but the
hardest words he ever saysGet in the boxwhen
he says those words youre like, gulp.
Some saw him as a sort of father figure to them:
- Judge Morris is like a father figure in a sense . . . personal, he
seems to know your background, your kids, your name, I mean, he knows
a lot of details about youhe remembers what he talked about with
you last time. You start to see him as a father figurewhere it
makes you feel bad if you didnt do it, or you feel good if you
Others emphasized his fairness:
- Hes been a judge for a long time and hell make you or
break you; as long as you work with him, as long as youre honest,
thats the big thing, as long as youre honest hell
work with you.
- When he pats you on the back after youve been in the program
for so long . . . he tells you youre doing a good job. It makes
you feel great.
- Judge Morris does put a lot of fear in people.
Seattle (Hon. Nicole MacInnes)
Seattle participants described the same properties when referring to
their drug court judge:
- You can talk to the judge. . . . Youre treated like a human
- Judge MacInnes is one of the sweetest ladies I ever met in my entire
life and shell bend over backwards to help you. And thats
- If you go to her and say, Im screwing up, shes
more than fair.
- You lie to her and youre done.
- She know you up to lying and you not gonna complete the program cause
she just get rid of you early. You lie to her and she dont play
ball with you.
- It gets to where I, everyone knows, you know everyone on a first
name basis and they know you and not only does the judge know whats
going on in your life and remembers, Paige does and Dennis, the prosecuting
attorney and whats the name of the guy with the glasses, well
anyway, its like MacInnes and her crewit makes me feel,
like, on! It develops a trust and I just can go to group with strangers
and to a strange court and let everyone know whats going on. Ive
been up there and Ive bawled out in front of them.
- I think we need a judge because people like us are real good at abusing
the system. But with the judge, that puts me in check.
- I think theres a difference between a drug and alcohol counselor
telling you what to do and a judge of the court.
Back to The Courtroom Experience
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts