Louisville attorneys Rob Mattingly and John DeCamillis interview Jefferson County Judge Stephanie Burke about the Drug Court. This episode deals with both mental illness and addiction. They discuss her passion for helping people to recover, how Drug Court works and why it’s so valuable to our community.
The Honorable Stephanie Burke is a Jefferson County District Court Judge. Elected in 2010, she’s served for the past 10 years. She’s a mental health and criminal court judge. She’s served in the Jefferson County Drug Court since 2012. She also became the mental health judge in District Court in 2017.
Rob and John often receive calls from people who have family members suffering from mental health problems and/or drug addiction. They simply need direction and advice as to how to help their family member.
Topic 1: If someone has an alcohol or drug issue, but hasn’t be charged with a crime.
Topic 2: If someone’s been charged with a drug or alcohol crime.
Topic 3: What do you do if someone suffering from mental health issues is in immediate danger?
Topic 4: What resources are available if your family member is having on-going struggles with mental health?
John begins by commenting that Judge Burke has become the local expert in regard to how the court system can get involved on a personal level and save lives. Judge Burke credits her early experience working with Judge Henry Weber, who was a Drug Court judge. She was also a guardian ad litem working with people living in poverty. Both experiences were formative in her desire get on the bench to help those people in need by getting them out of the system and to have better outcomes.
During her time on the bench, she was active in getting Tim’s Law passed. This deals with court ordered assisted outpatient statue. Judge Burke was instrumental in Kentucky recently receiving a $4,000,000 grant to help Jefferson County deal with people who are frequently hospitalized and incarcerated due to challenges in coping with their mental health situations outside of a formal setting.
When John receives a call about someone struggling with and issue, he tries to determine if it’s due to addiction, substance abuse, mental addiction or a combination of factors. If it’s substance abuse the person’s age and insurance are important. Casey’s Law becomes important when there’s no criminal action, but the parent wants to seek help for their loved one, through the court system.
What Is Casey’s Law?
Casey’s Law enables a family member or loved one to take court action to obtain a court order to force someone into substance abuse treatment. This would be an involuntary situation. While this involves fees and other expensed, there are community resources available to help.
To find out how to obtain a Casey’s Law order, visit www.CaseysLaw.org and search for Jefferson County. The process is explained and the steps are laid out to help you.
Judge Burke suggests www.FindHelpNowKY.org, as a resource, before pursuing a Casey’s Law order. A questionnaire on the site will provide a list of potential treatment options, based on the specific circumstances.
In 2020, Jefferson County had 600 overdose deaths. There were only 218 in 2015. The opioid epidemic combined with COVID pandemic have led to disastrous results in Jefferson County. The isolation has exacerbated the challenges for those in recovery or those trying to gain sobriety. Overdose deaths in Jefferson County increased by 60%, compared to last year.
As a family member of someone struggling with addiction, a court ordered intervention can be that step that helps to turn his/her life around. Addiction treatment has enabled many people to begin and stick with recovery. They can go on to have successful lives, save marriages and enable them to be the parents they really want to be, because the drugs are no longer controlling their lives.
Here’s an overview of the PART 1 process, when no criminal charges are pending:
The parent contacts John DeCamillis
The parent or family member should look at the Jefferson County Attorney’s website for Casey’s Law at https://louisvilleky.gov/government/county-attorney/caseys-law.
Contact the advocate in the county attorney’s office by calling (502) 574-6188. The Office of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Mental Health Division is another option at (502) 595-4053. They will walk you through and provide assistance.
The prosecutor’s office will assist in preparing the petition. After the mandatory evaluation is completed, a court hearing is set. The petitioner would testify as to why they feel their loved one should be placed into this program. The court would then make a decision regarding whether the person should be ordered to treatment.
The only upfront cost goes to pay the medical professionals for the evaluation. The advocate can help the family member to find affordable treatment. If the family doesn’t have money for the treatment, The Healing Place may be a no-cost option.
What if my loved one relapses?
Unfortunately, relapse is common occurrence. The law does not limit how many times you can file a Casey’s Law petition.
A family member contacts John DeCamillis about a family member, but there is an actual criminal charge(s) involved. This could be a drug- or alcohol-related charge such as DUI, possession, etc. In this case, the individual may already have a court date set. This also assumes there’s an addiction component involved. Drug Court may be an important option.
Jefferson County Drug Court
This is for drug addiction as well as alcohol addiction. If a Class A misdemeanor or felony charge is pending, or the individual is on probation for a Class A misdemeanor of felony, he/she may be eligible to participate in Drug Court. An assessment would be required. If the person is found to be “high risk/high need,” the greater the possibility that he/she would benefit from and be successful from the Drug Court program.
Resources, case management support and clinical services that someone in this high risk/high need situation may not be able to get on their own. This is an alternative to going to jail.
What’s the Benefit of Drug Court?
Depending upon the plea agreement, your plea may be set aside and your case dismissed once the individual successfully completes the program. This could apply to misdemeanor and felony charges. Not only would he/she avoid a jail sentence, more importantly they will be living soberly and on the way to a full recovery from the addiction. For some, Drug Court can literally be a life-saving option.
Each person receives an individual treatment plan, which often includes housing as a critical first step. A clinical advisor is assigned. A recovery coordinator (therapist) is involved. A case manager is assigned to manage all of the appointments and direct communication with the individual.
Judge Burke’s Approach to Drug Court May Surprise People
It’s not what many expect. When Judge Burke conducts Drug Court, she purposely sits across the table from the individual and doesn’t wear her judge’s robe. She wants to connect with the individual on a personal level.
Outside of the courtroom, she will visit with participants at their place of employment, or even at the person’s home to show active support. She attends celebrations and milestone meetings with the individual. The graduation is a significant event for both the individual, Judge Burke and the team supporting that individual’s recovery.
Now let’s transition to mental health issues. If your loved one is suffering from a mental illness and is in immediate danger, there are options available to help. John can help determine if this is a mental inquest situation or something that can be addressed via Tim’s Law (assisted outpatient treatment).
If someone is a danger to himself/herself or others and has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and you believe he/she is in imminent danger, you can seek an involuntary commitment for an involuntary hospitalization. In Jefferson County, this is done at the Hall of Justice, room 3177. The address is 600 W Jefferson St, Louisville, KY 40202. You must go in person, with an ID. It’s open 24-hours a day.
Once the petition is submitted, a judge will review it to determine if the person needs to be picked up for evaluation. If so, a doctor will determine if the person should be kept for a period of time to be seen for a hearing. If the judge then determines a longer hospitalization is required, the process ensues. The person can be kept typically up to 60 days to help the person return to a stable condition.
If your loved one has had repetitive hospitalizations or incarcerations due to mental illness there’s an additional option.
This is Kentucky’s law for court ordered, assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). This went into effect in 2017, but in 2019 the statute was expanded to include a wider range of eligibility. Kentucky received a $4,000,000 federal grant from the federal agency providing services for mental health treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
If you have a loved one who has been committed under a mental inquest warrant, twice in 12 months and has been hospitalized twice in 12 months under a court order, you can seek an order for the individual to comply with outpatient treatment. This is meant to stop the revolving door for someone who gets treatment, feels good so he/she decides to go off of their medications and is once again in a crisis situation.
The petition is usually handled by a doctor or someone involved in the person’s treatment, typically while that person is still hospitalized. The loved one can also file this petition. If assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) is elected, it can go into effect for 356 days.
There is no cost involved for the family. If insurance is available that can be used, but the grant is there to provide funding.
Judge Burke has been very involved in getting this program off the ground. She’s worked extensively within the local court system. She’s lobbied in Frankfort to educate legislators. She’s actively making a difference for our community and the state at large.
Between 2017 and 2019, there was only 1 AOT petition taken. Judge Burke comments that her calculations indicate the program saved approximately $500,000 in costs to the community for hospitalizations and incarcerations of that individual. The new federal grant is aimed at serving 192 people over four years. This is a huge advantage when the local and state governments are experiencing budget pressures.
In closing, we’re confident you’ve now learned that there are places and programs to turn to when you need help or treatment for your loved one. Please don’t give up hope.
More information about the Law Offices of DeCamillis and Mattingly, PLLC
Address: 138 S. Third Street, Louisville, KY 40202 (across from The Old Spaghetti Factory)
Phone: (502) 589-2822
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