First graduate of Human Trafficking Court celebrates life

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

Cathy Justice had two choices when she appeared before Judge Charles Pope in 2014: continue on her current path of relapsing on drugs and moving in and out of jail, or try something different. Justice chose the latter, and is now celebrating her success as the first graduate of the Washtenaw County Human Trafficking Court.

Developed in partnership with Michigan Law's Human Trafficking Clinic, the Human Trafficking Court offers those who have been arrested for prostitution and are later identified as victims of human trafficking the opportunity to participate in a diversion program that provides rehabilitative and treatment services. Participants also receive free legal help from MLaw's Human Trafficking Clinic.

"One of the primary goals of the court is to increase awareness of human trafficking amongst the local criminal legal system so that exploited individuals will be identified and treated as victims as opposed to criminals," said Elizabeth Campbell, clinical assistant professor of law in the Human Trafficking Clinic, who spearheaded the development of the court.

A crack cocaine addict who began using in 2003, Justice turned to prostitution to support her habit at the urging of her dealer, who demanded that he be paid immediately. She was jailed on solicitation and drug charges numerous times during the past decade. When she last relapsed on March 28, 2014, she was prepared for Pope, of Ypsilanti's 14B District Court, to sentence her to the Washtenaw County Jail once again. Instead, Pope had other plans for Justice: sending her to the Human Trafficking Court, which he oversees.

"The judge said, 'Give it a shot, because what you've been doing hasn't been working,'" Justice recalled. "'You've been messing up since 2003, and it's only getting worse. I'm here to tell you that relapse doesn't have to be part of your recovery.'"

Justice was assigned to a treatment team, including a case manager, representatives from the Home of New Vision addiction treatment center, and peer support specialists. She began attending daily Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and individual and group therapy sessions, which enabled her to begin the process of kicking her drug habit and getting to know herself and what led to the choices she had made.

When Justice reached 90 days of recovery in AA, she began reaching out to new participants entering the Human Trafficking Court, serving as a role model for them and providing support. She also found a job and became reacquainted with her son, from whom she had been estranged for several years.

A year and a half into the program, Justice was doing so well that Pope asked if she wanted to become a certified peer support specialist for the Human Trafficking Court. "Judge Pope told me, 'Cathy, you've shown me in the past year and a half that you have the will and the power to put your heart into whatever you desire,'" Justice said. "'Thank you for showing me the ropes on how this Court really needs to be done.'" After a two-week training program and passing a certification test on the second try, Justice became a certified peer support specialist and drug recovery coach in July 2015 and began working for the Human Trafficking Court last October. In between, she became the Court's first graduate on September 1, 2015.

As she approaches the anniversary of her graduation, Justice has much to celebrate, including more than two years of recovery from substance abuse; a job she loves, helping clients who are learning to face their addictions and other issues as she once did; and a profound sense of gratitude for where she's been and what she's achieved.

"I can't thank enough people for their help, especially Judge Pope," Justice said. "I sit in the courtroom now and think, 'he saved my life.' I'm going to be 44 years old, and I've accomplished more in two years that I never accomplished in 42 of them. I cannot express the gratitude I have in my life today."

Published: Fri, Sep 09, 2016