Sobering moment: Benefit for Sobriety House held in judge's memory

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

During his 32 years as a judge of the Wayne County Third Circuit Court, the late Judge William Leo Cahalan was known for helping substance abusers get the treatment they needed.

Following Cahalan's death in 2007, Sobriety House Executive Director Jerry Foster wanted to make sure nobody forgot him, his work, or the judges who share his conviction.

"Having been a recovering alcoholic himself, (Cahalan) went out of his way to steer them into some help rather than just send them to prison or whatnot," said Foster, a good friend of Cahalan's who got his job 11 years ago after the judge urged him to apply. "We thought we should start an awards ceremony for people who kind of followed in Leo's path to keep his memory going."

During Tuesday night's Fourth Annual Sobriety House Benefit in memory of Judge William Leo Cahalan, Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judges Edward Ewell, Jr and Timothy M. Kenny received Champions of Justice awards for their efforts in helping the addicted.

"These are two of the judges who worked very closely with Leo in the Third Circuit Court and are following in his footsteps," said Foster. "It's a criminal court, and some judges simply look up the sentencing guidelines and give them the jail time. But there are a handful of judges who take the time to extra steps to sort out those who have addiction problems, and get them help."

Cahalan left some big shoes to fill, Ewell said.

"He was a tough guy and recognized that he had some issues himself," said Ewell, team leader for the Wayne County Circuit Adult Drug Treatment Court which Cahalan created. "But he had a lot of compassion."

While some may feel the drug court is soft on crime, Ewell is convinced it helps prevent future crime.

"I feel proud every day when I feel I've helped somebody," he said. "People deserve a second chance."

Ewell wishes there were more treatment options for the chemically addicted because successful outcomes positively affect the addicted, their families, and others.

"It would be a huge burden off the tax rolls if it was expanded," he said. "It saves lives -- and resources."

Cahalan was extraordinary in his compassion and efforts to assist those struggling with the pain of alcohol and drug addiction, Kenny said.

"He was able to assist countless individuals in their journeys to sobriety and productive lives," he said. "I'm honored to help carry on the hard work needed to help people in our community restore their lives. "

Instead of automatically sending the convicted to prison, Cahalan would send the chemically addicted to rehab -- or sentence a combination of jail time and treatment -- if they met certain criteria and he believed they could turn their lives around.

One of those treatment facilities was Sobriety House, a 60-bed residential program in Detroit that for 48 years has helped men struggling with chemical addictions. About 2/3rds of the residents complete treatment, taking between 90 days and six months to do so.

About 200 people raised $20,000 for Sobriety House at Tuesday's event at Fishbones restaurant.

But the money was secondary, Foster said. The point was mostly about keeping Cahalan's memory alive.

"These two honorees are part of the legacy of Judge Cahalan in his personal commitment to help the recovering addict and alcoholic," Foster said. "He was responsible for the creation of the drug court program and we honored a couple of the judges who are continuing what he started."

Foster applauds judges such as Ewell and Kenny who take the time to analyze why that person may have committed the crime, whether addiction was a factor, and whether treatment is more appropriate.

"If someone comes before you and they're guilty of a crime, it's easy to send them to prison," he said. "But I think we all know that rehabilitation in prison doesn't work. If he's clean and sober, he's not going to have that problem again, so how do you help him stay clean and sober in the future? And that's not likely to happen in jail. It takes a special judge who'll look at that, rather than just say, 'OK, you did the crime. You do the time.' Because you'll just see him back again."

Published: Thu, May 19, 2011

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