Lookout Mountain Judicial District Chief Judge Kristina Cook Graham announced through a Summerville public relations firm recently that the state of Georgia has fully funded the circuit’s request of $148,166 to plan and implement the region’s first drug court.
Over the last several months, Judge Graham and Judge Don Thompson have established a working team to plan the new court. Judge Thompson will preside over the court while Judge Graham will preside in his absence or in cases that may require his recusal. Deanna Reisman and Vickie Clark of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District District Attorney’s office have been appointed to serve as prosecutors. David Dunn and Amber Connell of the circuit Public Defender’s office will provide defense counsel.
A drug court coordinator will soon be hired to oversee the entire program and coordinate team efforts. In addition, the working team is consulting with various treatment providers. Once the team is established, members will receive extensive training from the state of Georgia at the Council for Accountability Court Judges’ annual training conference in Athens, Georgia.
Accountability courts are alternative, problem-solving courts meant to address the cases of nonviolent offenders, such as drug users or those in arrears for child support, more effectively and economically than traditional courts.
“The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Adult Felony Drug Court will address the needs of habitual users,” said Judge Graham. “Using a team approach that includes weekly court appearances, random drug screenings, comprehensive treatment and vocational and educational efforts, those completing the program have a strong likelihood of abstaining from drugs and alcohol use and avoiding further criminal prosecution.”
Judge Thompson recently attended the Georgia Council for Superior Court Judges’ Accountability and Treatment Courts Committee retreat. Members of the drug court team have visited several accountability court programs to observe methods and procedures, including those in the Conasauga Circuit (Dalton) and the Northeastern Circuit (Gainesville).
Judge Thompson noted that Judge Graham recently attended a conference in Atlanta entitled “Drugs in America: What Every Judge Needs to Know,” which focused on the science of addiction and the proper medical and judicial responses to the challenges of addiction. Next month, she will attend the National Association of Drug Court Personnel Conference in Washington, D.C., the world’s largest conference on accountability treatment courts.
“This is a game changer for so many people in our circuit,” said Judge Graham. “We have an opportunity here to save lives and restore families by breaking the cycle of addiction and preventing further criminal activity in our communities.”
The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Felony Adult Drug Court will be accessible to citizens of Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker Counties. Court proceedings will be conducted weekly at the Walker County Courthouse, where Judge Thompson’s chambers are located.
Judge Thompson commented: “We are very grateful to Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield for providing office space for our drug court coordinator and his support of this program.”
Applicants for the program will be screened in the near future. The court hopes to serve up to 70 individuals at a time. The judges did not provide a time frame for the court's establishment.
Judge Graham said, “We know that this will have a huge impact on those coming before the court for adjudication. We believe this program will literally save lives and we couldn’t be more excited.”
For additional information about the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Adult Felony Accountability Court, Judge Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Judge Thompson at email@example.com. Both Judge Graham and Judge Thompson are available to address civic and business groups throughout the district about the program.