The Honorable Frederick Weisberg Lays Down the Drug Court Gavel . . Again

By Terrence D. Walton, Treatment Program Director
Posted January 2013

On Thursday, December 20, 2012, the Honorable Frederick H. Weisberg presided over his final Superior Court Drug Court Commencement and Progression Ceremony. These ceremonies are always memorable as they acknowledge the progress of individuals working to achieve lasting recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction. However this ceremony was especially notable because it marked the close of a transformational two years for Drug Court under Judge Weisberg’s leadership. 

Judge Weisberg began his two-year stint on the Drug Court bench in January 2011, just as Drug Court was preparing to undergo a comprehensive research assessment. This assessment was procured by PSA and conducted by national experts to determine how fully Drug Court incorporated best practices. By the time he began his second year, the research assessment was complete and the program was faced with a slew of recommendations that described a good program that would have to be enhanced considerably to match fully best practices. It is perhaps ironic that the judge being tasked with changing the program, which hadn’t been altered significantly since its inception in 1993, is the same judge who presided over that first Drug Court. Judge Weisberg’s return to Drug Court would prove to be as significant as was his initial assignment nearly two decades earlier.

While never accepting any recommendation without scrutinizing carefully its research basis and considering its practical implications, Judge Weisberg and the multi-agency Drug Court Steering Committee agreed ultimately to implement nearly all of them. This meant that Drug Court would abandon scheduled drug testing in exchange for random testing for all participants. Drug Court would remove the blanket exclusion of defendants receiving methadone maintenance treatment. The Court, the Public Defender Service, and Criminal Justice Act attorneys would develop a mechanism for designating a small number of defense attorneys to represent Drug Court participants. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would offer Amended Sentencing Agreements for some felony defendants for the first time in Drug Court history. Defendants in Drug Court’s first phase would receive more judicial contact—twice per month, instead of once. Treatment Pretrial Services Officers would represent their assigned defendants during Drug Court hearings, instead of relying on a single court representative. Drug Court would implement pre-court multi-agency staffings, which is standard in drugs courts and considered an essential, yet missing component. Finally, a larger array of both incentives and sanctions would be devised, with greater program flexibility in determining which response to apply.

It was no small matter for Judge Weisberg to preside over such significant changes in a program he helped create, especially without any mandate to do so. While these achievements weren’t ignored at the December 20 ceremony, they were far from its focus. Instead, the ceremony was replete with tearful defendants expressing their gratitude to the judge in word, poem, song, and sometimes respectful silence. Perhaps one defendant stated it best when she gushed, “You always believed in me. You never gave up on me.” The unscripted singing by two participants of the 1975 Motown classic, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” capped a morning of heart-felt tributes. The guest speaker for Judge Weisberg’s final ceremony was Rodger “The Dodger” Leonard, one-time junior middle weight boxing champion and older brother to the famed boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. While recounting his own descent into drug addiction and his decades-long successful recovery, Leonard paid tribute to the eleven Drug Court graduates and the nineteen participants who were advancing for having the courage and willingness to change. For his years of service to Drug Court, his commitment to those battling addiction, and especially for his remarkable final year, PSA offers the same tribute to Judge Frederick H. Weisberg.