Retired judge earns coveted Avadenka Memorial Award

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Among the honorees at the Annual Meeting was Judge Dennis Drury, flanked here by outgoing OCBA president Judy Cunningham and incoming president Jim Derian.


Photo by Kristen Dimich, OCBA

By Debra Talcott
Legal News

Although Dennis Drury officially retired as a judge for the 52-4 District Court and as the presiding judge for its drug court component, he continues to garner admiration. For his years of dedicated service, Judge Drury was named as this year’s recipient of the prestigious Frances R. Avadenka Award presented by the Oakland County Bar Association.

The honor is named in memory of the OCBA’s first female president, who died in 1987 while in office. Frances Avadenka had been known and respected for her volunteerism, so the award in her memory is presented to an OCBA member who has made significant contributions to the community outside of the legal profession and not for monetary gain.

“I was thrilled to be recognized for my community service,” says Judge Drury. “I had the privilege of knowing Fran Avadenka as my law career began in Oakland County. She was greatly admired by lawyers in the metro Detroit area. By her example, she challenged everyone in the legal profession to give back to their community through voluntary service.”

Judge Drury and this year’s recipients of other awards were honored at the OCBA Annual Meeting in June. His nomination came from the OCBA Criminal Law Committee.

“In 1966 Judge Drury was assigned to serve as a Circuit Judge for the Oakland County Drug Court,” wrote Kari L. Melkonian in her letter of nomination.  “He was active in changing the way cases were adjudicated. Specifically, Judge Drury’s philosophy on the bench was that a majority of cases were connected in some way to an offender’s substance abuse problem. From there, Judge Drury became an integral part of the drug therapy court where he was a participant for 12 years.”

Drury underwent training for implementing a drug therapy court with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Department of Justice.  His mentor was Mary Ann Solberg, who was the deputy director of ONDCP. 

“Mary Ann Solberg had served as Director of the Troy Community Coalition for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse for many years before being appointed to her position of Deputy Director (Deputy Drug Czar),” says Drury.

Drury presided over the Drug Therapy Court for more than 10 years before his retirement.

“The treatment courts are the wave of the future,” he says.  “More than 80 percent of all criminal activity is rooted in drug abuse, either directly—possession and use—or indirectly—crimes for money to support addiction.”

For each offender, addiction treatment costs taxpayers about 1/10th of that for incarceration for one year, making treatment a practical as well as more humane approach to solving one of society’s most prevalent problems.

In his years on the bench, Drury has observed his share of success stories, but those that have left the greatest impact on him involved pregnant offenders.

“One of the most difficult situations we face in the Drug Therapy Court is the expectant mother who is addicted to crack, methamphetamine, or heroin,” Drury says. “The baby born to a user is addicted to the drug, just like the mother. The child is in a life-threatening condition at birth. Extraordinary treatment must be used to wean the baby from the drugs. The distress of the baby is heart wrenching to the medical personnel who render treatment.  The treatment is very expensive.  I have heard estimates of the cost to be between $250,000 and $500,000. During my 10 years presiding over the Drug Therapy Court, we had three addicted expectant mothers come into the program. All three managed to remain drug free throughout the balance of their pregnancy. All three gave birth to non-addicted, healthy babies, and each of the moms was able to care for their baby. Now that’s a success story any way that you look at it.”

The judge has spent the seven months since his retirement enjoying spending more time with his two grandchildren, 9-year-old Violet and 7-year-old Christian.

“They are teaching me to use my universal remote and my electronic and computer equipment,” says the proud grandfather.

However, when someone is as dedicated to his profession and his community as Drury has been, he cannot be expected to walk away from his profession “cold turkey.”

“So my time has been devoted to organizing and training to serve as a neutral in arbitration mediation and facilitation.  My new career is in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).”

Drury also continues to teach law classes at Walsh College and Cooley Law School.

Born and raised in East Lansing, Drury considers himself fortunate to have grown up near Michigan State University.

“I went to school with the children of professors, administrators, coaches, and even the university president.  This provided me with exceptional adult role models, and it provided me with access to all of the facilities at one of the great learning institutions in the country.”

With an undergraduate degree from MSU and a law degree from the University of Michigan, Drury is poised to participate in any conversation about the rivalry between the two institutions.

“If anyone shows a preference for either institution, I can chime in with, ‘Oh, that’s where I got my degree,’” he quips.

Likewise, Drury’s education path means that receiving the Avadenka Award likely will not be the last time he is a winner.

“It also serves well for wagers since I can bet that my alma mater always wins when Michigan State and Michigan play each other.”

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