Judge Wendy Lindley offers a preview of the Orange County Community Court, which is scheduled to open in coming months.
The following is a transcript.
ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, this is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation, and I'd like to welcome you to New Thinking, a podcast produced by the Center for Court Innovation. With us today is Orange County Superior Court Judge, Wendy Lindley. I'm sorry for the background noise, but we're in a hotel lobby. Welcome to New York.
JUDGE WENDY LINDLEY: Thank you very much; it's great to be here.
WOLF: So let me ask you, I know you're doing a lot of interesting stuff in Orange County. Can you fill me in on your background? You preside over a lot of different kinds of problem-solving courts. So maybe you could tell me what those courts are.
LINDLEY: Certainly. I've been very, very fortunate to have been involved in what we call collaborative efforts for many, many years. I've been a collaborative court judge for drug court for 14 years, for a criminal mental health court for almost seven years, for a DUI court for about two years, and a homeless court for about six years. I'll be opening up a veterans court in November of 2008.
WOLF: How did it come to pass that you're at the crossroads of so many of these collaborative courts?
LINDLEY: I think that I came out of the district attorney's office and my first week on the bench I looked at things in a completely different way and it dawned on me that jail wasn't solving problems and that I, I felt compelled to try to look at a different way of conducting business. And in the beginning, I just had people come back and see me, bring their AA cards, bring family members, and had a kumbayah court. The problem was it didn't work. They were picking up new cases and I couldn't understand why. And that was when I learned about the drug court effort started by Janet Reno in Florida. And when I learned about the techniques that were successful, such as drug testing and the more counseling, and oversight, I made overtures to work with other community members to set up a true collaborative effort, about an 80 percent of those individuals don't ever pick up anything again, including a driving on a suspended license, which is about the lowest case you can get. So it's been very exciting.
WOLF: And so over the years you've expanded your involvement by creating these other kinds of courts, and now you're about to start a veterans court, and I understand you're also about to start something that, as far as I know, doesn't exist anywhere in the country. It's a community court, which of course exists in other places, but it's a different kind of community court. And so I wonder if maybe you can tell me a little bit about the veterans court and then about this new kind of community court.
LINDLEY: We decided we wanted to have a more coordinated effort to work with people who've served this nation and as a result we will be opening up our veterans court specializing in PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, and mental illness, specifically for individuals who have served in a combat arena on behalf of this nation. So we'll be using the same collaborative efforts that we've used, the same model that we've used since the inception of our collaborative courts, the research-based drug court model with this new court as well, that of course as always, when we open up different kinds of courts, we'll be bringing in different community partners.
WOLF: So like all problem-solving courts, people who are coming into the court are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, so they're facing some kind of charge but you are offering them an alternative to incarceration through treatment and collaborating with community services to try to get them back on track, but presumably if they don't do well, because you're following the drug court model, there are sanctions and there are other penalties. Is that right?
LINDLEY: Exactly. You've described it beautifully. We follow the graduated sanctions and rewards and we are a court that's really based on positive reinforcement and it's a very fun, wonderful place to be. We clap, we are enthusiastic, and we reward good performance. We have mentoring programs that also assist our clients staying on track, and if they don't do well, we have flash incarceration, which is, you know, a pretty severe sanction, and we do occasionally have people who terminate.
WOLF: And when you say terminate, then they face some other penalty?
LINDLEY: They go back to basically the regular criminal justice system.
WOLF: So tell me about the community court. How did the idea come about? And what is it and what stage is it at?
LINDLEY: Well interestingly enough, the idea started with the prior presiding judge, Judge Fred Horne had come out through an invitation through the Center for Court Innovation to see Red Hook. And he was so enthusiastic about that, that he came back to California and was able to get a grant from the AOC to work with the Center for Court Innovation on creating a community court for our community. So it's a stand alone court that will have one courtroom in it, one judge, and 30 ancillary services all on site. We have a full time social worker that will be there every day. We have full time paralegals from the public defender's office that do outreach with our clients and link them, not only with cases that they have in the system, but also with services. We have a medical doctor that will be there certain hours, we have a psychologist that will be there. We have a psychiatrist that will be there. We have outreach and engagement for mentally ill, which is a team that is comprised of law enforcement and psychiatric nurses that go out into the community but they'll also have an office on site on our, in our facility.
WOLF: And they go out into the community, presumably not to arrest people, but to offer services?
LINDLEY: No, to do outreach. And also if there is an altercation with a regular police officer, they will call this team in—and they believe the client is mentally ill—they'll call this team in and this team will work with the mentally ill person. They are specially trained to do outreach for the mentally ill. It's a fantastic program. We also have a children's chambers. And the children's chambers is a beautiful room which will be served by agency, another partner called Victim Witness, where they'll have full time staff on site to take care of the children while the parents are in counseling, and our theme there is reading. And every child that goes in will be read to while they're there. We don't have a television. And they will leave with a book of their choice. They can choose any book in the room. We're hoping that while we have the children there, the doctor and psychologist have a room right there in the next office, that we're gonna be able to meet the needs of these kids that come in and suffer so much by the bad decisions of their parents.
WOLF: And you are going to be the judge.
LINDLEY: Very fortunate, yes, that I get to be the judge there. It's a labor of love.
WOLF: And just give me a sense of how it works. So you go in in the morning there and then you have say a drug court calendar in the morning, and then a veterans court in the afternoon, and then the next day a homeless court?
LINDLEY: Exactly. There'll be a specified court every morning and every afternoon, every day.
WOLF: In the same court room but you sort of put on a different hat and have different people coming in.
LINDLEY: Different hat, different team. For every single court we always have a public defender, a lawyer, the district attorney, healthcare agency, which is our healthcare, county healthcare provider, the probation department, who is a wonderful partner in all of our efforts except homeless court, and then all of our ancillary agencies.
WOLF: When I think of Orange County, I've always been told it's a very conservative place. Were there some people who were, perhaps, critical of this approach? And if you did face those kinds of challenges, I wonder how you addressed it?
LINDLEY: Well, I think it's important for individuals in the community to understand this isn't about some, you know, drug user or mentally ill person. This affects the kids. The majority of my clients are parents because I do adult programs. So this, this is a huge factor in our community and the way that it affects young people. Plus with all the wonderful studies we have, showing that we save, you know, 10 dollars for every one we spend in a program like this, it's a pretty easy sell, really, both economically and socially, to most people if you have a chance to sit down and really talk with them about the—and the great end results we have in the researched-based programming that we do.
WOLF: So when is your opening day?
LINDLEY: Justice George, who's Chief Justice in our state, he is going to come down and do a grand opening on December the 5th.
WOLF: Sounds great, and I look forward to hearing more about it as it progresses. And thank you so much for taking your time.
LINDLEY: Certainly. It's nice to meet you.
WOLF: This is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. You've been listening to my interview with Orange County Superior Court Judge Wendy Lindley. To find out more about the Center for Court Innovation visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org.