Archive for October, 2009

Criminal Drug Defense Lawyers and the DeKalb County Drug Court

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Whenever I post a blog on a criminal case or a criminal defense lawyer matter, I always keep the full names of living subjects completely out. This is such a blog, but certainly people know that when I mention Drug Court in DeKalb County, a bunch of people know which Judge I’m talking about. I had the pleasure of spending close to an hour talking about Drug Court with the DeKalb County Drug Court Judge. I’ve learned that this is a well-run program, now up to approximately 32 participants (at the time of our early October talk), closely monitored, and giving addicts the opportunity to make a real change rather than count the days in a prison at 25,000 tax payer dollars a year, while living among more harden criminals than themselves.

I’ve met plenty of people who are jaded by the notion of drug court, that it doesn’t work, or it’s a nice idea but good luck. Anyone who has read my blog on Anthony Robinson knows how I feel about this. The fact is, recycling people into prisons guarantees the never-ending cycle of addiction, the cost to individual lives as well as the burden addiction places on society. Like the Judges in Kane and Dupage Counties’ Drug Courts, the DeKalb County Drug Court Judge shows a great understanding of the cycle, and the structures and processes that increase the chances of sobriety.

And the Judges have their feet rooted in reality, not fantasy.

The Drug Court Judge related a story of a Drug Court graduate (also name withheld) who later relapsed. While this may be thought of as a complete failure, the Judge noted that this person came back to seek help, to seek sobriety-something this person would never have done before going through the DeKalb County Drug Court program. While this relapse was a setback for the person, it was not a failure. It’s a recognition that drug use does not end with the bang of a gavel, or a written court order, or even with graduation from a Drug Court program. A recognition of relapse, the ability to know what to do, to have the trust and courage to do the right thing after a relapse, must be recognized as an incredible step forward toward long-lasting recovery. This person came back for help and guidance because of what was learned in the program fully aware and accepting of the failures on the road to success in defeating the urge to use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs.

Congratulations to the DeKalb County Drug Court Staff and its Judge. It’s a tough battle worth fighting for.

A Life Proving Hope In Drug Cases

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

You would do me an honor if you would read this post in particular, about a man named Anthony Robinson. He is the reason why, after 22 years of defending people with drug cases, that I still believe in hope.

I first met Anthony in 1990 when I was still a new assistant public defender in Kane County assigned to what was then known as preliminary hearing court, where the public defenders and prosecutors processed pleas by the boatload. Anthony, who was charged with felony retail theft, was one of them, a person who I got into a drug treatment program called TASC by agreement of the prosecutor that day. (He also got TASC in DuPage County on another retail theft out there). His case was just another body to move through the system.

About a year later, I received a call from Anthony. I didn’t remember him. He wanted me to file a motion in court discharging him from his TASC probation in Kane County two years early. After pulling his closed file I saw that his request was laughable. He had 5 felony convictions, 13 misdemeanor convictions, two trips to the Illinois Department of Corrections and about a 20-year addiction history, to heroin and other drugs. Why, I asked, would any judge even consider such a motion? When he answered, I was stunned. Okay, I said. Prove it.

When the case was called about a week later, Judge Wiley Edmondson asked the same question I did – Why should this motion for early discharge from probation be granted? Anthony came dressed in a handsome suit, shirt, tie and dress shoes, which made my assistant public defender polyester blend suit look pitiful by comparison. Anthony handed up certificate after certificate. It seems while Anthony was in a 6-month inpatient drug treatment program, he entered a counselor training program as well. After his release from the inpatient program, he obtained college credit and a counseling certificate. He was volunteering at youth homes to talk to minors charged with crimes on how and why they should not follow in the footsteps of his past. He was enrolled in continuing programs to further his education in counseling, determined to make his life of lemons into lemonade for others. All Anthony wanted from Judge Edmondson was a court order that basically said his visits with his DuPage County probation officer was enough, that he didn’t have to also come to Kane County for appointments.

I’ll never forget this – Judge Edmondson stood and ordered everyone in the courtroom to give Anthony a standing ovation. And they did. Oh yes – Judge Edmondson also granted the motion.

When the public defender’s office assigned me to a full-time felony trial spot, and then the “drug defense czar” spot, I reconnected with Anthony Robinson. He had either started or became a head teacher and administrator at a program called BE-HIV. Better Existence with HIV – a program in Evanston and Chicago that works with people to achieve sobriety, and help people avoid the risk of contracting the HIV virus, as well as helping and educating those who have contracted the HIV virus, to give them hope, purpose and dignity. He also continued his volunteer work in youth homes.

I recruited Anthony to testify in drug cases in which the prosecution had charged intent to deliver, and not just possession. Conviction on the intent to deliver meant no possibility of drug counseling treatment, that prison at 25,000 tax-payer dollars a year to house a person behind bars was the only choice. At an intent to deliver drugs  trial, the prosecutor would bring in officer after officer to testify that whatever they found in a drug arrest case meant intent to deliver. However, Anthony didn’t come from a police-only background. He had been there and done that. He’d lived on the worst streets with the roughest people. He knew the truth out there. He experienced counseling and fought to gain his own sobriety. He was a counselor and counseled others. The fact of his criminal history, rather than diminish his credibility with the judges, heightened his credibility. Unlike some who yell and scream and stomp their feet to gain attention, Anthony talked in a soft voice about how there was no formula a person can attach to the drug addict. The desperation for the next high was unique. His dulcet toned words drew people to listen to his words. More importantly, he listened. You could tell he wanted to hear each person’s story and point of view. He was a natural at calming people and causing them to listen to better understand their own crises. Because of Anthony, my ability to win these cases was unstoppable, and so many more people received treatment and reached sobriety because of Anthony’s work.

One client in particular, who had been a skinhead all his life, with a swastika tattoo on his hand, now had this Jewish lawyer (me) and an African-American advocate (Anthony), working to get a not guilty on intent to deliver so he could get treatment probation on the possession charge. While the case was pending and after the not guilty on the intent to deliver, guilty only on the possession charge, awaiting sentencing, Anthony saw to it that my client got started in a counseling program. At the sentencing hearing, this skinhead client broke into tears and apologized to Anthony for being such an S.O.B. and swore he would change. This client never got arrested again.

In 1999, Anthony Robinson, along with another person, had written a treatise on how emerging Third-World nations could work to reduce the spread of HIV among their populations. And none other than then-President Nelson Mandela invited Anthony to speak before the South African Congress on his treatise and the program.

Truly amazing – from 1990, a drug-addicted defendant with a long history of convictions, prison sentences and addiction, to a respected treatment counselor at BE-HIV, now before the South African Congress as an invited speaker. Most of all – his own sobriety then reaching ten years.

In my private law practice, Anthony continued to come to my aid on behalf of clients charged with intent to deliver. However, in late winter 2004, I called Anthony at one of his BE-HIV telephone numbers. One of the workers I knew there answered. I said, This is Bruce Steinberg. I have another case that needs Anthony to the rescue!

Total silence – then words I’ll never forget. “Didn’t you hear? Last Halloween, Anthony was at a gas station in Chicago filling his car up. Two teens, probably gang-wanna-bees on an initiation rite, pulled a gun on Anthony and demanded his money. Anthony tried to talk them out of doing this, and they shot him in the stomach. He died a week later.”

Again, silence. The gentleman on the other end of the line began to cry. I hung up, horrified at such a senseless loss of an amazing human being.

Such a waste. A man like Anthony who had fallen so far because of the drug high, who had climbed so high without it, to be taken away at the height of his assistance to his fellow man.

There were a lot of reasons to be angry and saddened, to believe that the worst in human nature defeats the best in human nature. But the truth is, to feel this way would be disrespectful to Anthoney’s life. After all, hadn’t his purpose in life been to help other addicts to reach the sort of success he had obtained?

Intent to deliver cases still had to be defended. While Anthony could not be replaced, others came forward who had their own unique story. Like Anthony, they had been there and done that, and climbed out of their addiction to not only help my clients win intent to deliver issues, but also to help many of these people win their lives back.

This upcoming Halloween will mark the 6th anniversary of Anthony Robinson’s murder. The killers were never found out or caught.

For the sake of Anthony, his memory, and to celebrate the accomplishments of others like him, let us all still have hope in this world. Anthony Robinson – a quiet man, giving credit and praise to others. Not seeking attention, but softly helping others to regain strength, obtain sobriety, and make a difference. Not with blustery words, but with the example of his own humble life that reached success few ever achieve.

Anthony, at age 53, died far too young. Out of respect for who he became, let’s not only keep his memory alive, but also his hopeful purpose.