OVI Court Transforms Participants, Presiding Judge
By Csaba Sukosd | June 28, 2019
Specialized dockets are geared to enlighten and change the lives of participants heading down a wrong path.
Many times, the dockets also alter the judges who preside over them.
Delaware County Municipal Court Judge Marianne Hemmeter said that on her first take, "I thought specialized dockets were hooey," and these courts gave people a "pat on the back" when "they needed to go to jail."
Her perspective started to change when she was handed a docket for impaired drivers that included a fledgling probationary program that was underway.
As she became more immersed in the complexities of substance addiction - and how often it coincides with mental health issues - she became more aware of the concerns that need to be detected and addressed in her OVI court, the initials standing for Operating a Vehicle while under the Influence of alcohol or drugs.
Judge Hemmeter discovered something she didn't learn in law school or any criminal handbook, or during her nearly two decades as a prosecutor for the city of Delaware, Delaware County, and the Ohio Attorney General's Office before her 2015 appointment to the bench.
"We get to know these defendants," Judge Hemmeter said. "Sometimes they bring their kids to court. We get to see them far more often, especially at the municipal court level."
Two participants graduated from the program recently, bringing the total to 15 under Judge Hemmeter's watch since the specialized docket began in January 2018. One of them, Tasha Taylor, a mother of three, was arguably the court's biggest challenge to date.
"Man, she was stubborn," said Judge Hemmeter.
For a program that takes approximately a year to finish, Taylor took a few months longer. Sober since New Year's Day 2018, it wasn't until tragedy happened that her trajectory changed.
"With my mom passing from the alcoholism, and my kids, just being there, and for them to see me actually be there. That means the world," Taylor said of her graduation day.
"It is part of our duty - as a court system - to really look at who's in our system, and figure out ways to address these underlying abuse issues," Judge Hemmeter said.
"When one of [the participants] exceeds and does stay sober, and addresses the underlying cause of their addiction, you see it. It makes your day," she said.