Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jan 2007
Source: Journal News, The (NY)
Copyright: 2007 The Gannett Company, Inc.
Author: Bob Baird
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


It was close to midnight on Election Day and the returns in the race
for County Court judge were looking pretty solid.

That's when veteran Haverstraw town Justice Charles Apotheker moved
outside, onto the steps at Pasta Cucina in New City, where Democrats
were getting the good news on races from the village level all the way
to the governor's office.

The news that night included the election of Apotheker and Clarkstown
Town Justice Victor Alfieri Jr. to County Court, defeating two
Republicans - Karen Riley and Barbara Gionta - who had been appointed
to the bench in June by Gov. George Pataki. They succeeded William
Kelly, who had been elected to the state Supreme Court, and Kenneth
Resnik, who had retired.

And there was Apotheker, on the front steps of the restaurant, letting
Resnik know he had won.

It was Resnik, after all, who had urged him to run for County Court,
Apotheker explains. It was Resnik who knew why Apotheker wanted the
job and it was Resnik who wanted it so much for him.

For Apotheker, who served 26 years as Haverstraw's town justice,
wanting to be a county judge wasn't about prestige, a higher salary or
a longer term.

Something had been missing for Apotheker since the county's Drug Court
shifted from a rotation through the town courts to come under the
jurisdiction of the County Court.

 From 2000 to 2002, Haverstraw hosted the Drug Court under special
legislation that made it possible for other Rockland towns to transfer
their nonviolent drug cases there.

The point of Drug Cour -, a concept Apotheker admits he initially
opposed - is to offer drug offenders an opportunity to avoid jail by
pleading guilty and entering into a rigorous program of treatment,
counseling and monitoring. If they are successful, graduation from the
program means the charges are either dropped or greatly reduced.

It was attending one of the first Drug Court graduations that changed
his thinking. "You saw how behavior could change, given the right
stimulus," he says.

The goal is for those who pass through the Drug Court to remain free
of drugs, and also remain free of the legal problems and family and
career issues that go along with abuse and addiction.

"You see the power of recovery and the alternatives that are out there
to jail," Apotheker says, explaining that Drug Court makes heavy
demands in return for the opportunity to stay out of jail.
Participants are required to take part in a treatment program, report
to court, attend several self-help meetings and meet with case
managers who are part of the Drug Court team - all on a weekly basis.
On top of all that, there are both scheduled and random drug tests.

Apotheker emphasizes that Drug Court's success comes from its team
approach, involving a coordinator, prosecutor, public defender, social
worker, police and others, but says the key is the judge's role.

"I'm a social worker with a 2-by-4," says Apotheker, who like other
town judges could only hear misdemeanor drug cases at the justice
court level. "When you have a felony," cases that move to County
Court, "that becomes a 4-by-4."

It's up to the judge, with the help of the team, he says, "to create
an environment where they know they can't get away with anything."

Because drug addicts facing felony charges in County Court risk
substantial prison time, he says, there's all the more motivation to
plead guilty and do what's required by Drug Court, including find
employment and housing.

The benefits for the participant are a life free of drugs and legal
problems, and a chance at a stable family life.

The bottom line, Apotheker says he tells participants, is that "you
get to live instead of dying."

According to numerous studies, the benefits for society include far
fewer repeat offenders, less stress on the prison system and fewer
drug-addicted newborn babies.

Apotheker was so successful during his time presiding over Drug Court
and became such an advocate for the alternative to jail that he was
asked by the state Office of Court Administration to help train other
judges to preside over similar courts in their jurisdictions. He's
also on the faculty of the National Drug Court Institute and has
helped train Drug Court judges around the country.

When Drug Court was leaving Haverstraw and shifting to Rockland's
County Court, it was Apotheker who trained Resnik, his friend for 30

While he understood the logic in shifting Drug Court out of town
jurisdiction, he knew it meant that the only way he could preside over
it again would be to run for County Court.

It was Resnik, who moved from Rockland after his retirement, who
convinced him to make the run.

And it was people he's encountered in the community who convinced him
- - without even knowing it - that he had made the right decision.

While walking streets in Congers with his wife to gather signatures
for his nominating petitions, Apotheker approached a family sitting on
the steps of their home. "You're the Drug Court judge?" he recalls one
of them half saying and half asking. "He said his son was doing well
and thanked me."

Later, while campaigning outside Rockland Bakery in Nanuet, he had a
similar experience when a man approached him to thank him for helping
his son turn his life around.

"I can't take full credit - ever," he says in relating the story. "I'm
just the daddy. I wear the robe and have that 2-by-4."

In a couple of weeks, Apotheker takes over from Family Court Judge
William Warren, who has been running Drug Court. Apotheker will be
trading up to a 4-by-4. He's already discussing adding a police
component to the Drug Court team with Sheriff James Kralik and hopes
someday to expand the court's scope to also address alcohol addiction.

Although elected to County Court, Apotheker initially will be
presiding in Family Court here and in drug courts in the city of
Middletown and Putnam County, where he'll help train new judges to
take over.

"Being a Drug Court judge is exhilarating, disappointing and
exhausting," Apotheker says, "but it gives you a sense of
accomplishment that nothing else does." 
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