The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek

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					The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek

Episode #33: Judge Wendy Lindley, Orange County Superior Court
(May 2, 2012)

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DAVID ONEK:    Welcome to the Criminal Justice Conversations

Podcast, a coproduction of Berkeley Law School and the Berkeley

School of Journalism.    I’m your host, David Onek.   Criminal

Justice Conversations, recorded in the Berkeley School of

Journalism studios, features in depth interviews with a wide

range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials,

policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and

others.    The program gets behind the sound bites that far too

often dominate the public dialog about criminal justice to have

detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Today’s guest is Orange County Superior Court Judge Wendy

Lindley.    Lindley presides over many of Orange County’s

innovative collaborative courts.    These courts include a drug

court, a mental health court, a homeless court, a driving under

the influence court and most recently, a combat veterans’

court, the first of its kind in California.    Judge Lindley

was appointed to the Superior Court in 1998.    She previously

served on the Orange county municipal court and as a prosecutor

in Mariposa County.   Lindley has been honored as Judge of the

Year by the Orange County Women Lawyers Association and with

the Distinguished Jurist Award by California Women Lawyers.

She is a graduate of the University of Southern California

and Pepperdine University Law School, and she joins us from a

University of California Irvine studio this morning.   Judge

Lindley, welcome to the program.

WENDY LINDLEY:   Thank you very much, I’m delighted to be here.

ONEK:   You started the first Combat Veteran’s Court in

California, why did you think a court specifically for veterans

was needed?

LINDLEY:   Well, this really arose out of a situation I had in

one of my mental health courts, where we had a young veteran

who’d served several tours of duty in Afghanistan and had

significant issues with post-traumatic stress and also traumatic

brain injury and substance abuse.   And I noticed he really

didn’t seem to be thriving and I was very concerned about him

and in the end he did end up overdosing and dying and as a

result of that, I felt very strongly that we needed to change

up what we were doing with these young combat veterans that we

were seeing coming back with so many issues to face as they

tried to re-enter the community.   And so there has been a law

in the books for many, many years in the state of California,

1170.9, which did permit alternative treatment of veterans,

combat veterans, and so I went with that law to my presiding

Judge and inquired whether we could do something different

with this very unique population and specifically focus on the

issues that they brought to the table so that we could prevent

this from occurring to other people who bravely served their

country.   So, the presiding Judge, Judge Nancy Wieben Stock was

very supportive of this and we were able to work with the VA and

set up an outstanding treatment system and they even provided

us with the very first Veterans’ Outreach Justice worker in the

nation to assist us in navigating the VA and get those services

for these very, very deserving participants in the court.

ONEK:   Now I read that there was one participant who was

promoted to phase two of the program, which meant he would have

to come before you once a month rather than twice a month and

he protested and said he wanted to give coming twice a month

because he liked it so much.   You don’t usually see participants

asking to come to court more often.   What is it about this court

that gets that kind of reaction from participants?

LINDLEY:   Well, you know, everything we do in all of our

collaborative justice courts, they’re all based on research

that’s been collected by the National Association of Drug Court

Professionals for over 20 years, so everything we do, from the

smallest thing to the largest sort of more global structure that

we have in the court, really comes out of that research.    So,

what the research says, basically, is that human behavior is

motivated more by rewards than it is by punishment.   So, in our

courts we give out gift cards and we clap, which I know sounds

somewhat unusual.   We recognize people for the good decisions

that they make, and I started doing the rewards, gosh, probably

about maybe 17 years ago.   UCLA had been doing a lot of research

on methamphetamine, which was a fairly new phenomenon then, and

one of the studies they did, said that the outcome was that

they gave a small amount of money to each client that stayed

sober for a week.   So, I wasn’t going to give money to my drug

addicts in my drug court, but I went out and bought some coupons

just at various food locations and the first week that I called

everybody’s name that was doing a good job and one person I drew

their name and they got the award, our compliance when up from

about 40% to 80, 90 and I’ve actually had 100% days, with a

courtroom full of drug addicts.   So, I know that sounds like a

very small thing to give a food coupon award for five bucks, but

the fact is that it does motivate human behavior and so what we

feel in our programs is whatever it takes.    And if recognizing

people and giving them a small reward assists them in doing what

they need to do to grab a better life for themselves, then we’re

behind that 100%.

ONEK:   Now you’ve talked about the importance of rewards, but

of course there are times when people come before you who have

a dirty drug test or have some other program infraction and you

are tough on those folks, you don’t take their excuses, but what

is the appropriate thing to do with someone who’s slid back on

the road to recovery?

LINDLEY:   OK, well, while we know that clearly it is difficult

to deal with addiction of drugs and alcohol, because otherwise

our jails and prisons wouldn’t be full, so we don’t kick people

out if they slip, if they make a bad decision, but we do have

a swift and immediate consequence for that.    And we know, the

research shows, that you’re not going to get people well by

housing them in jail and prison for a long period of time,

but we do use the evidence based flash incarceration, which

means they’ll go in jail, maybe overnight, for a day initially,

maybe two days, and what that does is it pulls him out of their

environment, it’s almost like a child.   You’re giving them quiet

time, an opportunity to think about the bad choice they made,

why they made that choice, what they can do in the future to not

make that choice.   But, you’re not just putting him in jail for

a lengthy period of time and washing your hands of them, because

that doesn’t help anybody, it doesn’t help them, it doesn’t help

criminal justice and it certainly doesn’t help the community.

ONEK:   Now, you’ve been involved in a number of these courts, as

we mentioned drug court, mental health court, homeless court, as

well as the combat veteran’s court.   Pretty much from the time

you stepped on the bench, what originally attracted you to the

ideas of these collaborative courts when you came onboard as a

new judge?

LINDLEY:   Well, to tell you the truth, at the end of my first

week on the bench, on a criminal assignment, I actually drove

home crying because I felt like all of a sudden coming from a

prosecutor’s perspective where I had been prosecuting cases

of domestic violence, I really felt so good about the work I

did, I felt like I was protecting families, I was protecting

children, I was protecting primarily women and you know, I went

to work every day and felt like my life had meaning because of

the work I did.    And driving home at the end of that first week

as a judge on the criminal calendar, I felt like, wow, look at

this, these people are just recycling through this revolving

door, because of their addiction and if we look at our criminal

justice system, we know that we have more people housed in jails

and prisons here in the United States, than any other civilized

nation on this planet.    If housing people in jails and prisons

changed behavior we would have a very low crime rate here, and

I’m talking about nonviolent, you know, non-serious types of

cases, which are the majority of the people in our jails and

prisons.   So, I felt like I was just part of a big failure.     And

at that point, I didn’t know about drug court and I didn’t know

about this other approach.    So, I started having my clients come

back on Friday afternoons, bring in their families, asked them

to go to get counseling, tried to give them referrals, just did

the best I could to see what I could to about figuring out, why

did they intersect with criminal justice and what can I as a

judge do after the constitutional rights had been protected,

after they pled guilty, to try to get them out of the system and

so they would never come back again.    That was my effort and it

was a failure.    It was a failure because I didn’t understand

about the seriousness of addiction and the need to have drug

testing and have a more formalized approach to it.    However, in

April of that year, I learned about drug court, I learned about

Janet Reno in 1989, starting the first drug court in the state

of Florida, where she said look folks, here in criminal justice,

everybody’s in their own silo.    You’ve got the DAs you’ve got

the prosecutors, you’ve got the defense lawyers you’ve got the

probation department, you’ve got your health treatment program,

you’ve got the judge and nobody’s really communicating here.

And no wonder the outcomes are so terrible.    She said you folks

all need to sit down at the table together and work for a common

goal, which is to figure out what this person needs so that they

get out of the criminal justice system permanently and that was

the first drug court in the nation.    So, of course I stole every

idea I could from her, also from Jeff Tauber, who was the first

drug court judge here in the state of California, and tried to

implement those as much as I could to create more of an evidence

based approach to this.

ONEK:   The Center for Court Innovation in New York has pioneered

a lot of these collaborative courts, starting with the Mid-town

Community Court in Manhattan.    We had the center’s director,

Greg Berman, on the show a few episodes back, talking about the

spread of collaborative courts.    Here’s what he had to say.

BERMAN:    I think that we’re really interested in is spreading

a set of ideas, that courts can kind of lift their heads up

and see the forest for the trees, that courts, that we can get

better access to information for judges so they can make more

informed decisions, that we can create links between courts

and social service providers so that we can drastically reduce

the use of incarceration, that we can be more thoughtful about

measuring the impacts of what courts do on the streets.

ONEK:   How have the ideas Greg just discussed influenced your

work in Orange County?

LINDLEY:    Well, I think he concisely expresses the whole purpose

for what we do here every day.    And the Center for Court

Innovation of course has been a real leader in the field of

collaborative and therapeutic justices and I think he’s right

on, I don’t think anyone has said it better.

ONEK:   Well, let me ask you then, so you had ideas, you looked

at Janet Reno, you looked to other courts in California, you

looked at the Center for Court Innovation, but you had to

implement this in Orange County.   How did you get buy-in first

of all from your colleagues on the bench, and then from all the

other partners that you need to bring to the table to make this


LINDLEY:   Oh boy, I’ll tell you, I think the loneliest of my

life was that first year on the bench, because the presiding

judge at that time, of the municipal court bench where I was,

was not a fan of what I was doing, pulling in those defendants

on Friday afternoons and trying to help them change their lives.

Even when I learned more and started instituting evidence-based

practices, he actually told me that the community didn’t support

what I was doing and he and the other judges didn’t support what

I was doing, and when I was up for re=election, which actually

was going to be, because I was appointed in someone’s seat who

had passed away, was going to be within that next year, that

they would not be willing to stand up and say that I should

remain on the bench.   So, that was pretty terrifying, but as

a single parent with three kids, I had to put some thought in

that, and I decided, and went back and told him that if in fact

the public thought that what I was doing was wrong, then they

had a choice and they could remove me from the bench, but that

I couldn’t see any other way to do my job and I was going to

continue doing it in that way.   So, yeah it was tough.   And then

another time at judges meeting, another judge stood up and he

actually pointed his finger at me and said you’re nothing more

than a social worker in a black robe.   And I said well, thank

you, because at least I’m trying to make a difference here.

And it was hard in the beginning, because I just didn’t know

why I saw it this way, and I just didn’t.   So, like I said, it

was very lonely.   And there were only a few people that agreed

with me.   Even defense lawyers didn’t, one came to me with a

story that a bunch of them were out playing golf and they were

laughing about me and you know, how I was trying to help these

people and they just didn’t think it was going to be effective.

But, now things are better, things are much better.   We’ve had

some outstanding presiding judges here in Orange County.   Judge

Nancy Wieben Stock and Judge Fred Horn, and they both really

believe in collaborative justice, and that is truly the only

reason that we have all these courts here, because it really is

in the hands of the judges that administer the courts to allow

these courts to proliferate.

ONEK:   Well, after that start, how were you able to convince

more of your colleagues to come on board with this approach?

What changed?

LINDLEY:   Well, I’ll tell you one thing I did is, at one point

I was the presiding judge of the municipal court down in

South County and there was a really nice gentleman who was a

prosecutor who’d been appointed to the bench, so he was coming

to my court, so I called him up and I said, this is what your

assignment’s going to be, and part of that assignment’s going to

be drug court, and he said to me, you know, I don’t believe in

this, and I really, I’m a team player, I’ll do what you ask me

to, but I want the option to not have to do this if it doesn’t

go well, I do not believe in this.   I said, you know what, come

down, try it, we’ll see how it goes.   That was, what, 13 years

ago, he still runs the drug court.   He loved it.   Once you can

actually show people, show judges what we can do, and the joy of

holding a baby that’s been born drug free, and the joy of having

a parent turn to you and saying thank you for saving my child,

and returning my child to me, there’s, in my opinion, I can’t

imagine a judge wanting to do anything else, and the majority

of the judges, who’ve actually had an opportunity to try this

really, really love it.   Even most of the judges these days who

haven’t tried it understand that this is, it saves money, it

saves lives, and it’s just better for our community as a whole.

And so they do seem obviously far, far more supportive than they

were when they tried beginning this many, many years ago.

ONEK:   And you mentioned that public defenders weren’t

necessarily supportive when you got started and I know in some

other places around the country, this is also the case that

public defenders worry about their clients due process rates,

most of these programs require their clients to plead guilty

to get into them, or they also worry about widening the net,

that they’ll bring people into the criminal justice system who

really don’t need to be in the criminal justice system at all.

There was a quote though from a public defender who works in

your homeless court, and the quote was this is an incredibly

intelligent way to deal with a very complex problem.   Can you

talk about working with public defenders as well as prosecutors

and getting both of their buy in into this this program?

LINDLEY:   Well, in the beginning I held the very first meetings

trying to get everybody to the table in Orange County, and

both the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s

office walked away from the table more than once.   The public

defender’s office felt that we were setting up plans to infringe

too much on people’s personal liberty and personal choices, and

the district attorney’s office of course thought we were being

too liberal, and that we weren’t doing what needed to happen,

which at that point in time was housing people in jails and

prisons to protect society.    So, it was tough.   It was really

tough.    It took a year before finally we could get everybody

to agree to give it a try and just see how it would go.     Today

things are better.    I have to tell you, when I sat down with

our district attorney, and asked him about veterans’ court

and told him that I wanted to take violent perpetrators into

veterans’ court, if in fact they had no criminality before they

went, after they returned from their military service, they now

were engaging in acts of violence and if those acts of violence

were related to their post-traumatic stress, then I wanted to

take them and he said yes, he did feel that that would make the

community safe, so I mean, we’ve come so far from when we first

started to open up these courts and try to help people and make

our community safer, for the DA now to just jump on board and

say yes, I believe in this, and this is a good thing.

ONEK:    Now part of the approach is that you’ve also created

a community courts building in Santa Ana, a one stop shop

that provides wrap around services such as drug treatment and

counseling and housing assistance, on site on the courthouse.

What are the benefits of that approach?

LINDLEY:   Well, we call it actually one stop shopping, because

what we did is we renovated what at one time was an old Buffam’s

department store building and the area we have is the dining

room, so it’s pretty cool because we have a huge wall mural

there, which reflects the history and culture of Santa Ana, so

we designed this building to be warm and friendly, with warm

colors and another gal that works for the court and I put tile

up, we call it Santa Barbara cheap, because Santa Barbara has a

gorgeous courthouse with lots of murals and things, and we

wanted it to be different, we wanted it to be a place where

people walked in and felt like they could get help and service.

And in fact on the wall where you walk in it says welcome to

your community court, because any citizen is welcome to come in

and utilize the services that we offer there.   So, what we have

is, we have my courtroom, and in the courtroom we handle all of

the organized calendars that we’ve discussed, drug court, DUI

court, I have five mental health calendar courts, a combat

veterans’ court, homeless court, and so we handle all of those

organized courts within the courtroom.   However, outside of the

courtroom, we have 23 ancillary services that share office

space.   So, the Department of Voc Rehab is there.   Not only do

they have an office there, but they also have a computer lab

there, where they help people learn how to do applications,

learn how to work on the computer and so on.    Then Social

Services comes, the VA comes, let’s see, legal aid comes and

provides services that are not of a criminal nature.    We have a

medical team that comes once a month and does assessment for

psychiatric and medical needs.    The healthcare agency is there.

Our most valuable partner is the public defenders’ office.      They

house a team there of paralegals who are there every single day

and when people come in they kind of triage, OK why are you

here, what are your needs?    If they’re for our homeless court,

we have 940 clients in our homeless court, and they receive a

lot of their services right there in the building.    So, the

public defenders’ office will link them with services, they’ll

pull their cases in from other courts, so that we can handle

them there.    So, anyway, we have 23 ancillary services.   So,

it’s really nice for me as a judge, because I can sit on the

bench and say to one of my clients, go out, go the first left,

go into Voc Rehab, and sign up.    Go out, go in the second left,

go to VA services and find out what your benefits are and sign

up for the help that you need.    So, it’s just really, really


ONEK:    And I don’t think that can be underestimated for folks

who are homeless, for folks who have serious drug addictions,

for folks who are struggling in other ways, to make it so easy

for them to walk out of your courtroom and immediately access

these services without having to go across town and wait in some

line somewhere at some other agency.

LINDLEY:    Yeah, I think I can explain it this way a little bit

better.    If somebody is schizophrenic and a judge says to them,

all right, you need to go here and you need to do this, you need

to go see this doctor, then you need to go get your meds, well,

if you are actively schizophrenic and maybe you’re paranoid, and

you get on the bus, and you think the bus driver’s going to hurt

you, you’re going to get off the bus.    And you’re not going to

go where the judge told you to go.    So, in traditional court,

you know, a warrant probably goes out for you and you get some

jail time and nothing’s working.    It’s just such a huge benefit

to be able to say walk straight down to the end of the hall,

healthcare services is waiting for you right there.    It changes


ONEK:   Now, what research has been done on the effectiveness of

Orange County’s collaborative courts?    Do we have evidence that

they are indeed making us safer?

LINDLEY:    OK, here’s what we know at this point.   We have our

drug courts, we’ve had 1,401 graduates and this is in the past

16 years.    76% of them have not recidivated, not recidivated.

So, these are all felony drug addicts and that is an incredible

statistic, because if you look at what had happened, what would

have happened had they gone to state prison, which they all

would have, they would have recidivated within 18 months.      75%

of them, I believe.    And then if you look at DUI court, it’s

one of the most amazing ones.    779 graduates, 95% of them have

not recidivated.    The mental health courts, 151 graduates, 78%

of them have not recidivated.    And combat veterans’ court,

we’ve been open three and a half years, we have 23 grads and

we have no recidivism at this point.    So, yes, the recidivism

rates definitely show that this is far more successful than

other treatment modalities and approaches.    But, we can also

say is that we save a ton of money.    If you just look at drug

courts and the savings from housing in jails and prisons, there

are several different studies out there, but one says $7 for

every one dollar spent, I think another one is $3.50 for every

one dollar spent, and another one dollar is higher, it’s $10,

but that’s just for these drug court clients.    If you look at

the mental health court clients, the savings are far greater,

because it is extraordinarily expensive to house people in

hospitals for mental illness and those clients tend to recycle

through the hospitals and jails at a far higher level than

others, as you’re aware, our jails and prisons in the United

States are our largest mental institutions, which is wrong.     You

know, if we look at society by how we treat our most vulnerable,

we have truly failed with the mentally ill.   And we’ve got to

change up what we do with these human beings who are suffering

so.   If they were diabetic, we’d be handing them insulin and

exercise programs and doing everything we could.   They’re

mentally ill and we’re locking them up, and we’ve got to change


ONEK:   On the issue of cost effectiveness, you know, you make a

strong argument for the cost savings of these programs.   But,

those cost savings usually don’t come to the court, right?

They’re savings in incarceration costs, in crime on the streets,

in other things, and courts right now are facing severe budget

cuts as you well know, in fact next week is law day and the

theme is going to be no courts, no justice, no freedom, and

people are going to be speaking out about the severe budget cuts

to our state courts here in California.   How have, and other

courts like yours, have had trouble maintaining their funding in

this budget environment, how have you been able to keep these

courts going, given then budget crisis that courts are under

right now?

LINDLEY:   Well, there is a benefit to the courts and the benefit

to the courts is that these folks, first of all, get out of

criminal justice, so that’s helpful in the long run, but the

other thing is, we’re not issuing these warrants all the time

and every time we issue a warrant, it takes a lot of time and

energy for the court staff, and all the paperwork and so on, so

there is a benefit to the courts, it’s not huge, as it is to the

community at large, but there is a benefit.   As to maintaining

these courts in these tough economic times, the court never

does get any money for doing this work.   So, the money goes to

probation, it goes to the treatment end of it, but it doesn’t go

to the courts and it doesn’t go to the lawyers.    So, it really

just needs to be a decision that this is something valuable

for the community that needs to be kept going.    I do believe

that our court administers believe that having the 940 homeless

court clients and these other clients who are heavy users, the

mentally ill clients, heavy users, of regular court justice,

does free up the judges to do the other kind of work that needs

to be done on behalf of the court.   So, there’s no big money

savings here, but there is a savings in terms of efficiency and

of better outcomes.

ONEK:   Sure, and for veterans’ court, you saw a population that

was not getting its specific needs met through any of the other

courts and decided to start a new court, a veterans’ court.    Are

there any remaining populations that you think would benefit

from a specific court, that don’t have one now?

LINDLEY:   You know, it’s interesting you say that, I was just

contacted this week by a gentleman who’s interested in looking

at issues of gambling, because they are, you know, that’s

something that is treatable, but my greatest interest would be

to have a court for the caretakers of elderly people, because

we’re seeing more and more of that now, of abuses, financial and

physical, of older people who are being taken care of by family

members.   And that’s a big concern I have, and I think it would

be really appropriate to set up a system whereby those cases

could be monitored, because in the end they’re going to have

contact with their family members again and I hate to see them

once again vulnerable without the issues of substance abuse and

the mental illness being treated on the part of those who abuse

the elderly.

ONEK:   We just have time for one more question, I’d like to ask

going out, what advice do you have for other jurisdictions who

might be listening to this and say wow that sounds fantastic,

I would really like to start something like this in my county.

What would your advice be to those folks?   How do they get


LINDLEY:   My advice would be to start with law enforcement.

Once law enforcement understands what you’re doing, they really

get behind it.   I actually had officers that write in their

police reports, this looks like a good candidate for drug court.

And we often used to have law enforcement officers come to our

graduations, because it was very gratifying for them to see

that what happened at their end in the field resulted in this

really good outcome, and I have to tell you my clients were

more excited to have their police officer there, seeing them

now totally changed, than they were to have almost anybody else

at their graduation.   So, getting law enforcement involved

is essential in my opinion, because these are their issues

on the street, and if you’re standing side by side with law

enforcement, I think people are going to listen to you.   So, I

would definitely do my best in that area.   And of course then

you just have to go agency to agency and get buyoff and in

this day of economic stress and issues, to me this makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the failed experiment of jails and

prisons.   If we truly want to have better bang for our buck, we

should be putting our bucks in collaborative justice programs.

ONEK:   Well, that’s a great note to end on, Judge Wendy Lindley,

thanks so much for joining us.

LINDLEY:   My pleasure.

ONEK:   Please tune in next time when we’ll be joined by Amy

Bach, author of Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court.

Thank you for listening to the Criminal Justice Conversations

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