Fitting tribute: Juvenile drug court program holds graduation ceremony as presiding circuit judge ends era

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

The Juvenile Drug Court program in Oakland County reached a milestone November 30, which was particularly fitting for a man who has devoted his time and legal talents to the rehabilitative cause over the past decade.

Circuit Court Judge Edward Sosnick, who has presided over the “Family-focused Juvenile Drug Court” from 2001-10, was on hand to witness another “graduation” ceremony for the program, beaming proudly as three participants successfully completed the rigorous requirements of the Juvenile Drug Court. One of the three was the 100th graduate of the program since its inception.

“The graduation ceremonies are always very special, principally because of the hope that has been restored for these teens and their families,” said Judge Sosnick, whose judicial role in the program has been assumed by Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan. “This ceremony took on more meaning since it was my last and the fact that it stirred a lot of memories about all those who have been involved in the program over the years.”

A video tribute to Judge Sosnick for his years of service to the program was one of the highlights of the ceremony, which took place in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium last week.

“It was very touching,” Judge Sosnick said of the video salute, which was produced by Jacqueline Howes-Evanson, supervisor of the Drug Treatment Court. “It was a vivid reminder of all the hard work and sacrifice that has gone into this program since it was founded. So many people have dedicated themselves to ensure its success.”

The mission of the program, according to Howes-Evanson, “is to protect public safety and reduce the incidence of juvenile drug crime by helping youth and their families achieve drug-free lifestyles” and correspondingly healthy family relationships.

“Almost every youth who has participated to date has had a history of serious and long-term drug use, home and school difficulties, emotional problems, and often, failure in previous treatment programs,” she said.

The three graduates on November 30 included Alex, 18; Dale, 17; and Ryan, 16. The three, Howes-Evanson reported, “have worked hard, suffered some, and ultimately learned to maintain sobriety,” deciding to exercise the “power to choose” a positive course of action in their lives.

Alex was admitted to the Juvenile Drug Court in January 2009 after his parents filed “home incorrigibility charges” against him, according to Howes-Evanson.

“Alex had begun using alcohol and drugs at age 12,” she said. “Alex was using marijuana daily as well as large amounts of alcohol regularly. He was in constant conflict with his parents. Alex was well known by the local police department, having accumulated three Minor in Possession charges.”

Now, after suffering several relapses during his time in the Drug Court program, Alex “has learned to take responsibility for his actions and for the direction he wants his life to go,” recently securing a job with plans to “complete his GED before attending community college for culinary training,” Howes-Evanson related.

Seventeen-year-old Dale also began the Drug Court program in January 2009 after he was charged with marijuana possession and receiving and concealing stolen property. He began using marijuana as a 9-year-old and suffered alcohol poisoning at age 12. He also admitted abusing various painkillers, Ecstasy, PCP, and LSD before completing an in-patient treatment program.

“Dale now has over one year of sobriety,” Howes-Evanson said. “Dale has a full time job and is working on completing his GED while taking college classes. Dale plans           to complete a college entrepreneurship program in order to learn how to run his own chemical dependency treatment program in the future.”

Ryan, age 16, entered the Juvenile Drug Court last December, not long after his parents had filed a petition of home incorrigibility. He was using marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs, and was failing all of his high school classes. Since being admitted to the Drug Court program, he has received “all passing grades” at the alternative high school in his district and has “remained clean throughout” his Drug Court stay, according to Howes-Evanson.

“Ryan has focused much of his attention on his love for music and hopes to record songs with his new band in the near future,” she said. “His relationship with his parents has greatly improved and they have offered him consistent support throughout his time in the program.”

Their three stories of redemption mirror those of many others who have made their way through the program, according to Sosnick, a past recipient of the “Champion of Justice Award” from the State Bar of Michigan. In particular, he remembers a girl who was admitted to the program shortly after he became presiding judge.

“Her mother was a drug addict and prostitute, and had been murdered,” Judge Sosnick recalled. “She then was sent to live with her father, who physically and sexually abused her. She was then adopted by her aunt and uncle, and enrolled in an alternative school. She had a serious drinking problem and was drunk seemingly all the time.

Once she was admitted to the drug court, she made uneven progress. I can remember her uncle being so beaten down with frustration, but he stuck with her and before long she started to make some headway. There was something special about her. She wanted to be an accountant and she was determined to realize that goal.”

Then there was a young man named “Tony,” whose appearance was marked by “25 piercings, nine different hair colors, and assorted tattoos,” Judge Sosnick remembered.

“He was a sight, but I never said anything to him about his appearance,” Judge Sosnick said. “Ours is a strength based program. It is not our job to fix them. They have to come to that conclusion themselves.

“One of my orders, however, was that he find a job. He didn't have much luck at it, trying repeatedly over four or five weeks to gain employment. He came back to court and asked me for one more week to find a job.”

He did, as a dishwasher, landing the job from a surprising large field of applicants.

“When he came back to court the next week I hardly recognized him,” Judge Sosnick said. “He looked like a new fellow entirely. His hair was normal, his piercings removed. He told me that his failure to get a job earlier probably was due, 'to how I looked.' It was a real revelation for him.”

Of course, Judge Sosnick has experienced more than his share of heartbreak over the course of his years working with the Juvenile Drug Court.

“I've attended two funerals,” he said. “Both deaths were caused by accidental drug overdoses. What tragedies for them and their families.”

His role as presiding judge is now in the hands Judge Brennan, who hopes to continue the exceptional work of her predecessor.

“Judge Sosnick has done an incredible job with the Juvenile Drug Court, and I have a great deal of respect for him and the program that he has put his heart into over the years,” Judge Brennan said. “I'm so impressed with the way the team interacts and communicates for the benefit of the participants in the program. But I really believe that the real stars of the show are the young people who make a commitment to their sobriety and fulfill the requirements of a very rigorous program that is designed to help them get their lives back on track.”