Mental well-being

Head of Mental Health Treatment Court relishes the ‘huge challenge’

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Deirdre Madden originally planned on entering politics, but her career path led her to serve as coordinator of the Washtenaw County Mental Health Treatment Court at the 15th District Court in Ann Arbor. The intensive program includes frequent probation meetings, rigorous alcohol and drug testing, mental health treatment services, and substance abuse treatment.

 “The goal is for our participants to reach a point of stability and lead healthier, more productive lives,” Madden says. “It’s a huge challenge, but the hard work makes it great.

“The treatment court team invests a great deal of time and energy into our participants and it can be difficult to watch them experience setbacks or struggle,” she adds. “On the other hand, I love watching our participants celebrate milestones in recovery, get jobs, feel more confident, and rebuild relationships with children and families. It’s very rewarding work.”

A native of Cleveland, and graduate of Magnificat High School in Rocky River, Ohio, Madden earned her undergrad degree in political science and history from the University of Dayton.

“My dad was always heavily involved in state and local politics and government in Ohio and I always enjoyed the excitement of helping him with campaigns and election night,” she says. “Before law school, I worked as an associate at a political consulting firm, R Strategy Group, in downtown Cleveland, and I loved it.”

Initially aiming for law school as a way to further her political consulting career, Madden switched gears after seeing how a law degree can open many different doors. 

“I ended up taking an interest in criminal law and decided to learn as much as I could about the field,” she says.

She earned her juris doctor from Cooley Law School in Ann Arbor, where she was a member of the International Law Society.

“We’re a very tight-knit class,” she says. “Many of my good friends, today, are from law school. The International Law Society was in danger of extinction, so a few friends and I decided to take it over in order to save what we felt was a very important campus organization. We had a diverse group of members and had movie nights and culturally-themed dinners every term.”

Madden spent eight months as a student attorney with Washtenaw County First Assistant Public Defender Lorne Brown.

“He’s an incredibly talented defense attorney – it was fascinating to watch him in the courtroom,” she says. “I also loved the client interaction I had there. It became important for me to build a good rapport.
That experience made me a hands-on court coordinator – I like taking a few minutes to speak with each participant when they come into the office to evaluate their needs and desires and level of satisfaction with Mental Health Court.”

Clerking for 9 months for Judge Christopher Easthope at the 15th District Court in Ann Arbor, Madden experienced first-hand the Veterans Treatment Court where her friend and Cooley classmate, Darius Robinson, serves as coordinator.

“I had never seen the court system from behind the bench before,” she says.  “Judge Easthope shows defendants in his courtroom a tremendous level of respect and compassion, but also holds everyone accountable for their actions. Sitting in his courtroom, I was lucky to learn more about criminal law and fortunate to watch the many talented attorneys who practice in Washtenaw County.”

As her February 2013 bar exam approached, Madden took time off from clerking to focus on her studies, returning to the clerkship while waiting for her results.

As luck would have it, the court had just received a planning grant to start a pilot Mental Health Court Program. Hired on as coordinator on a temporary basis last April, Madden began writing the FY15 Operational Grant, resulting in a $282,000 grant from the Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrative Office.

Several team members play a role in the intensive program. Community Support and Treatment Services (CSTS) provides two case managers and two jail staff members to coordinate recovery services and provide mental health treatment planning, services, and medication; Home of New Vision and Dawn Farm provide outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment services; and NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) Washtenaw County sends volunteers to assist with the Court and is rolling out a nationwide, signature program Peer-to-Peer with a special 10-week session exclusively for Mental Health Court participants.

Washtenaw County Community Corrections provides drug and alcohol testing for the program.

“We’re always open to volunteers and additional community partners,” Madden says.

Despite her Ohio heritage, Madden – who in her leisure time plays golf, travels, practices yoga, and reads – enjoys life in Ann Arbor.

“I love the restaurants,” she says. “It’s also nice to live and work somewhere that’s always bustling with events and activities, and it’s so easy and convenient to walk anywhere downtown.”