Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chief Justice tours Idaho, meeting with commissioners

Idaho Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann (left) and Chief Fiscal Officer Corey Keller (right) met with Clearwater County Commissioners Monday while touring various counties.

By Alannah Allbrett

Idaho Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann and Chief Fiscal Officer Corey Keller met with Clearwater County Commissioners Monday in an informal exchange focusing on the county’s drug court. Justice Eismann stated that he started Ada County’s drug court, and said that he wanted to see it expand statewide.

To correctly determine the costs of a drug court, a slot system was set up with so many available “slots” rather than a per-person cost, as the first six months of an offender’s treatment is initially the most expensive. If a person is unsuccessful and is replaced, the intake costs end up being higher than if the first offender had completed the program. Justice Eismann said, “I would like to see more money per slot for rural areas, as the larger cities have other resources.” In example, Eismann said it is not uncommon for a drug offender also to have suffered sexual abuse. Boise has resources for alternative counseling in those instances that smaller counties do not.

Justice Eismann said that initially it was thought the two percent tax revenue from hard liquor sales would pay for drug courts. “It hasn’t gone as we projected he said. Every legislative session we try to get as much money allocated to the drug courts as we can. We are trying to adjust upwards for the more rural areas of the state.”

When Ada County first started its drug court they applied for a two year grant. Eismann said after the initial grants they have had to find how to keep the drug courts funded. He also said counties have to find judges willing to serve in after-work hours so offenders do not have to leave work to participate. “Drug courts ultimately save money when people are working and kids are not in foster care” he said.

Drug testing is costly and requires people to administer the drug tests and probation officers to follow through. A county desiring a drug court has to decided how many slots they need and go through an approval process.

Eismann said that they have started charging participants a portion of their costs. He said, “You have to be firm in making them pay” he said. He outlined another possibility of cost recovery in making it more costly for a participant who comes back with a positive drug test.

Justice Eismann said that in typical criminal cases a judge seldom sees the offender again and doesn’t usually know the outcome from a case. In a drug court, however the judge sees the offender frequently. He said that he has seen lives get put back together where a person has gone from being homeless, and unemployed, to successfully being restored with their family, employed, and drug free. Eismann said, “It is the most rewarding work to do as a judge.”

Justice Eismann answered specific questions from the commissioners about the statutory rules on how much a county may recover from drug court participants. Commissioner Stan Leach said of the drug court, “We believe in it and want to see it keep going.”

Commission Chairman Don Ebert, in reference to the criminal court’s high caseload, asked why Clearwater County could not have a resident district judge. Eismann said the biggest problem is funding and that rests solely with the legislature.

Fielding the residency issue of where judges live while serving a particular county, Eismann said, “There may be a time in the future when we have more freedom in residency requirements.” But for now, he stressed, “rules are rules.” The matter of residency became prominent when retired Judge, 2nd District John H. Bradbury filed suit two years ago against Eismann and the high court concerning residency requirements. Judge Bradbury and 2nd District Randall W. Robinson were both present at the meeting.

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