Speech draws praise, criticism

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 10, 2008



CHARLESTON – As with any such speech, Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address drew a mixed bag of reaction.

The Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court thanked the governor for including funding for drug treatment courts in his speech, while the leader of a statewide group criticized Manchin for not talking about doing more civil justice reform.

"I would like to thank Governor Manchin for acknowledging the hard work of judicial system employees around the state," Maynard said. "What began as a pilot project in the Northern Panhandle, started by a courageous circuit judge and a committed probation officer, has proven so effective that drug treatment courts are now in place in two other areas and the Supreme Court is now training drug treatment from eight other counties."

In his speech Wednesday night, Manchin said West Virginia is receiving more than $44 million from a federal case that can be used to fight West Virginia's drug problem. He proposed in his speech that some of that money be directed to fund drug treatment courts.

Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said that money can be used only to support activities, not personnel. Counties, the Supreme Court, or both will provide additional money to hire treatment court coordinators and secretaries. It costs up to $220,000 a year to run a drug treatment court, said Canterbury, who helped draft 2001 legislation that led to the creation of West Virginia's first community corrections program in the Northern Panhandle.

There are three adult drug treatment courts in West Virginia.

X The Northern Panhandle Treatment Court serves Brooke, Hancock, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties. The mental health court has been operational since 2003 and the drug court has been operational since 2005. Both were started with grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. The mental health court now operates solely on state funds and volunteer time. The treatment court was begun by First Circuit Judge Martin J. Gaughan and First Circuit Chief Probation Officer Jim Lee.

X The Southern Regional Drug Court opened in 2006 to serve Mercer County only, but eventually it may be expanded to neighboring counties. The drug court team was trained in 2005 by the National Drug Court Institute under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

X The West Central Drug Court Diversion Program opened in July 2007 to serve Wood and Wirt counties. It may be expanded into a regional program.

There are two juvenile drug treatment courts in West Virginia:

X The Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court Diversion Program reopened in August 2007. It began as a pre-adjudicatory program in 1999. In July 2004, the West Virginia Supreme Court began paying for a probation officer and drug testing for the program. Cabell County Juvenile Drug Court graduates had a recidivism rate of less than 5 percent. Personnel changes and other issues led to the program's closure in November 2006. Supreme Court staff provided technical assistance to restart the program and move it from a pre-adjudicatory juvenile drug court to a post-adjudicatory juvenile drug court. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities provided a $31,000 grant to restart the program and the Supreme Court again agreed to pay for a probation officer and drug testing. The DHHR also provided a $26,500 to train juvenile drug court officials in both Cabell and Wayne counties.

X The Wayne County Juvenile Drug Court Diversion Program opened in September 2007. A pre-adjudicatory program, it serves Wayne County youths ages 10 to 17 who have substance abuse or alcohol abuse problems and who are charged with non-violent misdemeanor or felony offenses or alcohol-related status offenses. Prosecutors do not file juvenile petitions against youths who agree to participate. If they complete the program, no further action is taken against them. If they do not, juvenile petitions are filed and the judge proceeds with adjudication and disposition. The program includes regular drug testing, court appearances, individual and family counseling, and six months of aftercare services.

Statewide, 8.8 percent of all juvenile delinquency offenses in 2005 were for drug-related charges.

Meanwhile, the executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse criticized Manchin for not pushing for more legal reform.

"West Virginia is missing an opportunity to attract jobs by giving no priority to fixing our broken lawsuit system," Steve Cohen said. "Employers will find other states more attractive for job creation if, in West Virginia, they can be held liable for damages they did not cause and can be sued without any evidence of actual injury.

Cohen said the Legislature should do something about how Attorney General Darrell McGraw runs his office, adding that it is also unfair to West Virginia taxpayers to support "our courts for personal injury lawyers and their out-of-state plaintiffs."

"Lawmakers can send a signal to employers that West Virginia will not tolerate an attorney general who seems to act outside the law," Cohen said. "Sunshine legislation will regulate Darrell McGraw's questionable hiring practices. His reckless spending of lawsuit settlement dollars has already jeopardized millions in Medicaid funds for our state's poor and disabled."

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