“Merry Christmas! Everyone who tested is clean!”
Magistrate Valdis Foldats’ greeting was not exactly typical of the season, but few phrases could have brought his listeners more joy.
The magistrate was speaking of drug tests and he directed his announcement to the participants and professional team present for the last session of the informal mental health court before the holiday break.
The next day, at the drug rehabilitation court, test results were not unanimously good. One young man’s urine sample was “cold” – that is, at a temperature not consistent with body heat, after he’d mixed it with water. This was the second time he had produced such results.
“You have to have a sanction,” the magistrate told him, putting him in custody for the next four nights.
When drug court resumed on Monday, the young man apologized for his dishonesty. The magistrate said the man had to understand the importance of being honest with the court. “I’m going to release you today, but you’re going to have 10 days more hanging over you as a suspended sanction until Jan. 7,” he said.
Other drug court participants were released until mid- or late-January, but this young man will have to return to court on Dec. 31.
Further, he is expected to phone an appointed court officer every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to find out if he is required to come in and provide a urine sample for testing. “Even on holidays, you have to make that phone call,” the magistrate reminded him.
At the regular Thursday session, attended by 29 people in various phases of the drug court program, the magistrate reinforced the need to continue the random protocol phone calls to court officers “because we all know addiction doesn’t take a holiday.”
He urged everyone to, “Use your time to reflect – Why are you here in drug court? Because you want to change your life.”
He led several rounds of applause for men who have shown that they are changing by staying clean of drugs, consistently attending their appointments with counselors and probation officers and, in some cases, helping people in the community.
One of the men responded by thanking Mr. Foldats and probation officer Erica Ebanks. “She can pick sense out of nonsense,” he said of their meetings.
As in regular criminal proceedings, defendants in the drug court and mental health court are called into the dock one by one. The court team of counsellors, probation officers, healthcare workers and attorneys have already met in private to discuss participants’ progress or lack thereof.
When there is something positive to report, the magistrate explains what the person has done and thanks him or her – for being compliant; for being on time for meetings; for showing respect and a good attitude; for taking responsibility for one’s actions and accepting the consequences.
The magistrate quoted from one man’s self-evaluation in which he thanked his “brothers and sisters” in group sessions, his family “and the police officers who arrested me.”
When there is something negative, the magistrate highlights that as well. According to one young woman’s report, “Your intelligence is shining through, but you also need to be smart,” he told her. He was referring to something she apparently had said about the decriminalization of ganja in some jurisdictions. “It’s legal in Colorado,” he agreed. Then he added, “We’re not in Colorado.”
The mental health court can be more challenging. People are not brought to this court because of mental health problems. They are here because they have been charged with criminal offenses, such as possession and/or consumption of illegal drugs, or burglary, theft, damage to property or threatening violence. Their personal health or illness is a factor that affects how they will be dealt with.
Of the 19 people who attended the most recent session, one had been attending most of the year on theft charges. “You’ve been stable,” the magistrate told her. “I think we’re able to let you leave the special court.” Her next appearance will be back in the regular criminal court.
Another woman, who had been directed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, told the court she went, but did not have any proof. She was advised to get an attendance sheet that could be signed and dated by someone running the meetings, “so we know you are doing what you are supposed to.”
One man who had been given a community service order reportedly could not do the work because “the medication he was on was making him very slow.” The general response to such complaints is that the defendant should ask the doctor to adjust the dosage or try a different medicine.
At least four of the defendants are in custody because they do not have any suitable place to stay. They may have family, but sometimes the relatives cannot cope with the offender’s erratic behavior or refusal to fit into the home routine. Sometimes the offender sees the home environment as too restrictive and leaves.
Once the individual stabilizes, the family situation may change or the defendant may be eligible for consideration by a halfway house.
One man told the court he had a song he had written the night before and had others as well. He seemed to be prepared to sing, but the magistrate channeled his energy elsewhere. “Write them down and pass them to your probation officer,” he directed.
Another man in custody told the court he was in serious depths of depression. Charged with burglary, he had been in the drug court. That team felt they had done all they could, but recommended that he come to the mental health court “to see if other means could be explored,” the magistrate noted. Because of this defendant’s unique background, there was a chance that he could be eligible for treatment overseas.
The man seemed pessimistic when the magistrate suggested that he explore this possibility, explaining that he was not allowed Internet access. The magistrate reminded him that the court team was on his side and told him, “There is no enemy.”
The man disagreed. “I’ve met the enemy. I know who it is. It’s inside me,” he said. He left the dock for the downstairs cells and told the magistrate and court team, “I hope you have a safe and happy season.”