Joyce Wheeler


My participation in a new drug treatment court over the last few years signifies a transformation of this judge's application of herself in the courtroom. I have moved from the traditional role of judge to a more fluid role in which I begin from the stance as witness for the client and, when necessary, move to the more traditional decision-making responsibility of a judge. Awareness of the change occurred over time, but became most apparent in the context of an adult drug treatment court that integrates drug and alcohol treatment into the criminal justice system. A number of factors support the change in my judicial stance. First, this is a treatment court that requires new and different skills to be brought to bear on criminal behavior related to substance abuse. Second, the colleague with whom I share the responsibility for this drug court has taught me that it is all right to make contact with criminal defendants, and in so doing, relate to the defendants as clients. I use the term “contact” here in the Gestalt sense of being “open in a broad and deep way to the other's experience.” Third, my training in Gestalt therapy over the last eleven years has provided me with the necessary tools to organize my experience in drug court. Fourth, working collaboratively with the drug court team has expanded my awareness about what the client needs, provided more creative approaches for addressing crime and addiction within the judicial system, and supported a greater likelihood for rehabilitation. And finally, the fact that the defendants have already accepted responsibility for their crime by pleading guilty and know the best and worse deals depending on the outcome of their participation in drug court means that the punishment aspect of criminal justice has been met and we can focus on rehabilitation. A drug court session describing my experience—and, maybe, the clients' experience—illuminates this expanded structure for judging. But first, descriptions of the drug court, the role of the judge, and the concept of judge as witness, provide a context for the drug court session that follows.

First Page