Friday, February 22, 2008

An Altercation with the Drug Court Gestapo

Yesterday, I was invited to attend the Birmingham Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society luncheon and panel discussion. The topic of the panel discussion was "Is Drug Court a Good Idea?"

A little bit of info on the Federalist Society.
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.

Their members include all of the current conservative members of the Supreme Court and others of that ilk. Some might think that I would be out of place in such company, but the truth is I am a real conservative. I believe in a very small, un-intrusive government that serves to protect our rights and freedoms. I believe in states rights. I believe in the separation of powers. The people calling themselves conservatives today (The Republican Party) are really anything but.

I wouldn't have known about this luncheon, but apparently I have a friend in the legal community that thought my presence might be sorely needed at any such discussion on drug courts in Alabama. Bless'em! And a HUGE thank you to the attorney who invited me. If you live in Shelby Co. or surrounding areas and get wrapped up on drug charges CALL ME and I will give you the name of an attorney whose heart is in his work and that you can trust to fight like hell to clear your name. I would list it here on the blog but I haven't asked permission to do that. If I get permission I will put up a permanent link.

The luncheon was held at The Summit Club in Birmingham. The Summit Club is for really rich, powerful people. It is a private deal with membership dues (I don't know what they are but I suspect they are outrageous according to my poor person definition of that word). It is located on the 32nd & 33rd floors of the Regions Bank Harbert Center and it has an incredible view of the city. I had been there once before back in the late 90's. Yesterday my friend and fellow activist Dawn Palmer attended with me.

We arrived about the same time but had problems finding good parking. I wound up parking three blocks away. As soon as I pulled into the parking spot and began looking for change to feed the meter I was assailed by a homeless person. I tried to ignore him but he was persistent enough to tap on my window. "I don't have any cash." I wasn't lying either. All I had was enough to pay the $16 to get into the event. He walked away. About ten seconds later along came another one. I just waved him away. Then another one. Geez Louise! I finally got out of the car, fed the meter and hobbled the three blocks on my broke foot to the Harbert Center.

Dawn and I got in and got situated. Two more attorney's joined us at our table and introduced themselves and asked who we were and what we did. I explained that I am a legalizer, run Court Watch, Alabamians for Compassionate Care and ran for Governor with the Libertarian Party in 2006. It turns out that both of these attorney's had recently quit their practice and are opening an addiction treatment center. I was glad to hear that. Alabama has a huge deficit in the number of treatment beds available in the state and zero funding dollars. It's really awful. Drug Court can only be as good as the treatment offered. This bullshit of herding people through it and making them pay the drug courts anywhere from $2500 to $4000, plus CRO fees, plus drug test fees, plus drug and alcohol class fees is nothing more than government sanctioned extortion that doesn't help anyone. Most drug courts in Alabama offer no wrap around services such as mental health counseling and medications for those who need them, no vocational rehab to help them get a job, no transportation to get to and from drug court, which makes it almost impossible for people to get there because the state takes your license when you plead guilty. It's basically all a big fucking extortion scam.

The panel was made up of Drug Court Judge Davis Lawley, who was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to take the place of Judge Pete Johnson when he retired in 2007. Judge Lawley informed us that he was the former head of a drug task force and used to be the door-kicker-inner on drug raids. What a swell, unbiased person to be appointed Judge of drug court, eh? The other panelist was Lt. James Chambliss head of the Narcotics Division in the Birmingham Police Dept. Rep. Cam Ward (R- Alabaster) was also supposed to be on the panel but was unable to make it due to being in session in the legislature. A note to the organizers of this event...if you truly want to have a discussion on whether drug courts are a good idea or not how about including a panelist who doesn't profit directly from the drug war and drug courts? That'd make it a tad more balanced.

Having no opposing panelist I decided to fill that role from my chair in the audience. Judge Lawley spoke first and he covered what drug court is, how he wants to 'help' people who are 'addicts' so they can pay in their social security like everybody else. I got the impression that he felt every human was born to be a slave to social security taxes and that was perfectly ok by him. He tried to talk about how the brain works in an addicted human and failed terribly. It was painfully obvious he had not a single clue as to the science of drug addiction. He was a cop and now he is a judge and he never went to medical school, so just how exactly is he qualified to talk about addiction? Sounded to Dawn and me like he was acknowledging that addiction is a medical condition and not a criminal justice one. Which begged the question of why is he a drug court judge. But that isn't what I asked.

Next up was Lt. James Chambliss head of the Birmingham Police Dept. Narcotics Division. He kept looking at me long before he and Judge Lawley took their seats at the head of the room. He looked incredibly familiar. I am almost certain I have seen him in the State House. He talked about how his department is currently engaged in a "Zero Tolerance" campaign which consists of pulling over anyone and everyone. He said "We pull people over for throwing a piece of paper out the window. We use every tool we can to make contact with as many 'subjects' as we can to try and see what they are doing." It gave me chills. He continued to ramble about nothing in particular for some time. Seriously, this guy made no sense and was not talking about the subject of the luncheon at all. He said he sees the same people over and over and over. He threw in a comment about the Titanic being built by professionals and Noah's Ark being built by amateurs...but then failed to connect it to anything relevant. It was most bizarre! I couldn't help but wonder how many times his incoherent, rambling testimony put some poor non-violent drug user in jail.

Both Judge Lawley and Lt. Chambliss harped on the dangers of opiates, cocaine and meth. Neither of them mentioned marijuana in their remarks. I found that rather encouraging....until question time arose.

The first question was, "Does drug court reduce the recidivism rate and if so by how much?"

Lt. Chambliss started rambling again about seeing the same people over and over. To me that was a clear indication that Lt. Chambliss didn't think it was working. He continued to ramble about how bad drugs are and a bunch of other crazy nonsense that had absolutely nothing to do with the question asked. It was obvious that he probably didn't know what a recidivism rate was and he was floundering pretty badly when Judge Lawley attempted to answer the question. He didn't do much better. I was really surprised that they did not come prepared with some government math stats that say drug court works. It's like they never expected that question to come up.

Next question from an attorney was.."Does drug court actually cure addicts?" To my absolute horror Judge Lawley said something to the effect of, "There's no real fool proof way to cure and addicts...Everyone in the room here is educated so I can say this....Chairman Mao in China cut off the heads of drug addicts and pushers...we can't do that here of course so we have drug court."

There were a couple other questions before they got to me. I don't remember what they were. When I was finally called on I asked Judge Lawley how much of his drug court case load was made up of simple possession for personal use marijuana cases. It seemed that question caught him off guard as well. He had to stop and think about it for a minute. Then he pulled the random number of 10 to 12 percent out of thin air. Now it may actually be that percentage but he really didn't seem to sure of that number. I noted that 50% of all drug arrests in Alabama are for simple possession of marijuana and that his number seemed very low to me. I then asked him if he thought that using 10 to 12 percent of the very scarce resources available for drug court on non-violent marijuana offenders was a waste since marijuana is not addictive and doesn't have the same health risks as other harder drugs.

Judge Lawley: "Absolutely not. Marijuana makes people lazy and a-motivational."

Me: "Well, I hope the narcotics officer won't arrest me for saying so, but I have been smoking marijuana regularly since the age of 12. I am now 33, I run Court Watch, Alabamians for Compassionate Care, a blog, I ran for Governor of Alabama in 2006 with the Libertarian Party, am often in the media and I am here at your meeting today. Does that sound like someone who is lazy and a-motivational to you?"

Judge Lawley: "No but not everyone reacts the same way. Not everyone is you."

Me: "True, yet the net cast by law enforcement drags in everyone caught with drugs and does not differentiate responsible users from non-responsible users. Why doesn't drug court focus its resources on just the problem drug users?"

Judge Lawley: "Talk to Cam Ward...I don't make the laws."

Me: "I've been talking to Cam Ward for a few years now."

Lt. Chambliss: "I would like to address this question. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Every drug addict I have ever dealt with started with marijuana."

Me: "Marijuana is not a 'gateway drug'. That is just a theory. Every drug addict also drank milk at some point is milk a gateway drug? The connection between marijuana and harder drugs is that marijuana is simply the most prolific and widely available. What about tobacco and alcohol? Do you consider those gateway drugs as well?

Lt. Chambliss: "Them's legal."

Me: "Yes but I asked if you thought they were gateway drugs?"

Lt: Chambliss: "I believe tobacco a gateway drug."

Me: "But not alcohol?"

Lt. Chambliss: "No."

Me: "Both of you keep referring to 'drug related crime'. That is the wrong term. The correct term is prohibition related crime. It is exactly the same thing that we had when alcohol was outlawed in the 20's."

AT this point Lt. Chambliss became so irritated at me that he started asking me questions.

Lt Chambliss: "How many people you charged with narcotics?" (at least I think that is what he said)

Me: "None, I'm not a cop."

Lt.Chambliss: "How many narcotics raids you been on?"

Me: "None and I wouldn't ever go on one." I almost said "Hey I'm asking the questions here" but figured that might push him over the edge and make him pull out his gun and shoot me dead in my chair. Neither of those questions even made sense.

Judge Lawley: "I saw a study recently that showed marijuana caused 'paranoia'." (What he meant to say was schizophrenia).

The moderator jumped in at this point and cut off any further debate between the three of us. I was ready with this response had I been allowed to give it.

"I think you meant to say schizophrenia Judge. And regardless of what government study you read medical science tells us they have no idea what causes schizophrenia, that people are born with it and it is triggered at some point in their lives. Additionally, schizophrenics who use marijuana are using it to self-medicate. It doesn't cause the condition. If you truly meant that marijuana makes you paranoid I would offer up that it isn't marijuana that makes you paranoid....its the cops."

The next question was about arrest statistics. Lt. Chambliss pulled out some notes and left no doubt that cops and drug court judges are having no success in stemming the flow of drugs or stopping people from using them. He went back to about 2002 and read the amount of marijuana seized each year. Every year there was much more marijuana than the year before.

And then the fun was over because time was up. I'd like to be locked in a room with Lt. Chambliss for about an hour. Just me and him. He'd come out a changed man.

As we were leaving the lawyer who invited me came over and the first thing out of his mouth was, "I can't believe they would put that guy (Chambliss) in charge of anything. You couldn't make sense out of anything he was saying." I said, "Scary ain't it...and he carries a gun."

He also said that he was sitting by a Jefferson County Commissioner who was nodding his head in agreement with marijuana being a gateway drug. He said he told him that it isn't a gateway drug but that it is more widely available and easier to access than other drugs. The commissioner said, "That may be but the public isn't ready to hear that."

I had a marvelous time being a professional pain in the ass yesterday. It isn't often that I get to go head to head with a Narc and a drug court judge all in the same day. I was really surprised that some of the Federalist Society lawyers didn't ask about the Constitutionality of the drug war and the end run around the Constitution with the Interstate Commerce Clause. Really surprised.

You know the stupidity of Lt. Chambliss is downright frightening...and what is even scarier is that most law enforcement officers are drinking the same fucking koolaid that he is. Even the judge, who I assume is educated, believes in the shit. Either that or he is a whore profiting off of the blood and misery of others. Sadly not enough people possess the testicular fortitude to do what I did yesterday. It is always sublime to sit before a cop and a judge, both who would love to arrest and imprison me and say "I AM A POT SMOKER" thereby destroying their stereotype of what a pot smoker aka drug user is and does. Goddamn there is nothing better! I think my presence and direct confrontational questioning caught them seriously off guard. And that makes it ever better.

Strangely, the question of whether drug court is a good idea was never answered. Judge Lawley, who makes around $140,000 a year, obviously thinks it is a good idea and Lt. Chambliss, although he hinted that it wasn't working, profits from the fact that it isn't working so he don't give a damn about whether it is a good idea or not. He'll still make blood money off the damn drug war anyway.

My friend who extended the invite also attended our Compassionate Care meeting last night and signed up. He also told me that he has a friend who used to be a drug task force officer and has since joined LEAP and is now against it. I made him promise to hook me up with that gem. I'd really like to get LEAP down here in the same room with Lt. Chambliss and Judge Lawley and any other law enforcement officers, DA's, defense attorneys and judges who are interested to attend.

Later today I am going to talk to my friends at LEAP and see what it would cost to get them down here and start raising funds to make that happen. I'll make a separate post about that and ask you dear readers to contribute to that most noble cause.

Peace Out
Loretta Nall

Cross Posted at Alabama Court Watch


Alabama said...

id have loved to have been there to see it..and help you argue with those "sword in the stone" bastards. Maybe next time.

Loretta Nall said...

Maybe you will be able to attend some of the LEAP events if I can raise the money to get them down here.

InsanityRules said...

God Bless You, Loretta! You are a national treasure, I swear! While I almost never use either of those phrases, both seem warranted in your case - and I'm not even a believer. Your post was hilarious; well it would be if the whole situation wasn't so pathetic...

While I read your blog regularly, I rarely comment, because I find blogging addictive and, um... a-motivational, whatever the hell that means. Remember, marijuana is not a gateway drug, it's a gateway CRIME, and a gateway government credibility destroyer.

I, too am a "true conservative", as opposed to the meddlesome, intolerant red-necks that pass themselves off as conservatives these days. Thanks for brightening my day!

Loretta Nall said...

Thanks for reading InsanityRules...and I am happy toknow that my post inspired you to comment and brightened your day.

That whole episode brightened my day. There is nothing I love more than sitting before a drug court judge and a narc abnd saying "I SMOKE WEED" in front of a crowd of educated, powerful people thereby destroying the stereotype that they as 'authority figures' paint for the koolaid drinking idiots that abound.

Anonymous said...

way to go loretta, do you need a wheelbarrow to carry your balls in? when i hit the lottery you will have all the funds you need. don prockup

Jeff said...

Milk is not a gateway drug, that's just one more theory. Milk does have a tendency to lead to the highly-addictive fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, unfortunately, and then next thing you know you're on the street, strung out with chocolate all over your face... Tragic.

Austin Green said...

Having been through the Shelby County Drug Court earlier this year, I cannot express my delight to hear that someone is fighting for us. I chose drug court only because I could keep my license to get to their drug tests, since I live in Auburn and was unable to get the probation transferred to another court because Shelby County just says no. I was also locked up for four days because I didn't produce a clean drug test in the time that the court decided it takes to get marijuana out of your system.(30 days when it took me 58 by the Shelby County test but several days less by the Redwood Labs analysis.) When I would challenge members of the drug court, many times they would agree with me, but say that they had no choice in what was done. Drug Court is a business. NOT help. NOT justice. PROFIT.
Also, I was in court for 14 weeks. Every Friday, during my college math class. I saw at least 4 people in that time who had returned to drug court and were recognized by the judge. I don't know a single person who has stopped smoking marijuana after completing drug court, and I know at least 30 graduates.

Anonymous said...

Interesting observations. Drug court does work for those people who want to adjust their lives. The Judge who started the program, Pete Johnson, will present real statistics which show success in many instances. I worry more about Libertarians who think most problems can be solved by the free enterprise system (as we face the third Boosh term).

Loretta Nall said...

I know Judge Johnson and am very close friends with the man who trained him to run drug court.

And your comments about fearing Libertarians and free enterprise is ridiculous, unless of course you cannot live without government controlling every aspect of your life.. All the Libertarians I know despise Bush and his policies. He damn sure doesn't believe in free enterprise.

As to whether or not drug courts depends on the drug. While you may have a few successes you can laud mostly what drug court succeeds in accomplishing is serious resentment among those it is trying to 'help'. It is nothing but an extortion scam....that's all. It wasn't ever meant to be run the way it is and since it already has enough rope it will hang itself before too much longer.

I can't wait!

Jeff said...

Maybe anon. meant "Libertarians*"...?

*people who claim they are Libertarians but make clear with nearly every spoken word that they are tribal authoritarians who can rationalize away nearly any atrocity; Rush Limbaugh and/or Michael Savage listeners, y'know!

Loretta Nall said...

Maybe so Jeff....kinda like those who claim to like everything about the Libertarian party except that aggravating 'liberty' part.

Anonymous said...

Is there any articles or research concerning the legality of the Drug Court System? Who is there to keep them in check? And don't say lawyer because if you hire a lawyer, they are not a member of the "Drug Court Team" and have no official vote when they go to staffing. The public defenders do...but not a hired attorney. Hell my lawyer resigned on me because there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HE COULD DO once I pled in.

Anonymous said...

and the catch is..when you pled in you signed away your rights to anything, so if you speak out or argue or question too much...they have the right to sanction you right then and there.

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciate your perspective and activism concerning the validity of drug court.
Someone, I know was charged with possessing a controlled substance fraudulantly.
They had a surgery which came along with a perscription to pain meds. Later, this person was caught giving false info to a pharmacist in order to get an unauthorized perscription filled. This is their first offense.
Here are some of the questions this person must answer. Does this person have to hire a lawyer and go to drug court to prevent jail time and probation that would interfere with being hired?
I agree that the whole thing is an extortion racket but what can this person do if they want to save money and not receive jail time or be blackballed?
Thank you for reminding me that we must all stand up and face the truth or be confined by our own deceit. You've shown that a true warrior wins by retaining the strongest foundation. Her enemies may feel attacked but they were only attacked by their own dishonesty.

Loretta Nall said...

Hey anon...I'll try and answer your questions.

>Does this person have to hire a lawyer and go to drug court to prevent jail time and probation that would interfere with being hired?<

No. This person can always take their chances before a district court judge in regular court and forgo drug court altogether. If they lose though this will remain on their record. If they decide to go that route and are in the BHAM area they need to hire Charles Salvagio. Tell him I sent them and he will work out a way for payment.

Usually there are no defense attorneys in drug court other than the one affiliated with a particular drug court system. You can well imagine how 'adequate' any such defense would be.

Unless the charges are dropped I'm afraid there is no way to avoid jail time and also save money. They have us all by the collective balls on this.

Anonymous said...

Loretta what is the difference in DRug Court and CRO? An attorney I went to school with use to be a Judge in Etowah County Court. He told me Drug court in EC really wanted to help people and CRO was a cash cow that could care less. Also I read the state made CRO to be run by private companies. When you look up who owns the one in EC its owned by EC. Where does all this money go? Thanks for any answers you can give.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you, Ms. Nail. I work in the Shelby County "Justice" System. Drug Court is an injustice. All they care about is making money. At this time, they have individuals who are not certified through the State to conduct any services, from Asessments to Treatment. They do not utilize the agencies in the area who are certified through the State to conduct Assessments and Treatment. Unfortunately, they have very little experience, but they seem to think they are experts. It's been troubling for me since Shelby County decided to start a Drug Court program. They do not help individuals. They are detrimental to them. Not only that, they have decided to start a Mental Health Court. Frightening. To put it bluntly, no one involved has any specialized training. They went into this assuming they know what they are doing. However, all they have managed to do is revictimize the clients involved in Mental Health Court. You think Drug Court is detrimental? (I gree.) However, Mental Court is destroying lives as well. They abuse, humiliate and torment those involved in this process.

Anna McKinney