Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Alternative Approaches to Problem Solving

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Alternative Approaches to Problem Solving

Article excerpt


Susan Finlay Center for Problem Solving Courts

Richard Hopper Hennepin County Community Court

Derek Denckla Center for Court Innovation

John S. Goldkamp Temple University

Susan Finlay Center for Problem Solving Courts

Good morning, everybody. I am Susan Finlay from San Diego. I retired from the Superior Court bench a couple of years ago after twenty years in the trenches doing criminal, civil, and juvenile matters.

Looking back, the highlight of my career was helping to start an adult drug court in the Southern Jurisdiction where my courthouse was, and then moving on to the juvenile court at the presiding judge's request to oversee the juvenile drug court there.

Those two courts, which were different systems, were really important to me in my career. I believed that I was helping make my community a better place, which was why ! wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

I have been in this business for thirty-four years, not as long as some but I remember as a brand-new lawyer, after being in my office for several months, going in to my senior partner and saying, "I'm just sick of people's problems."

And he said, "Susan, what do you think a lawyer is supposed to do? People don't come to you unless they have some problems." And I said, "Oh, okay." And he said, "If you're not interested in problem solving, you had better look at a different profession."

Well, here I am, all those years later, working with the Center for Problem Solving Courts with Judge Tauber, looking at ways, creative and innovative ways, that courts, lawyers, and other people in the system have discovered to solve the problems that they are facing every day.

The Center for Problem Solving Courts is trying to take an overview of this proliferation of innovative, creative problem solving from coast to coast, and it is an amazing experience because new courts are springing up every time I take a look, and I find out about another one.

We are also interested in educating people in the criminal justice system in regard to the various models and approaches, including the case-management systems that are compatible with problem-solving-court philosophies.

That said, I used to believe that judicial education was the way to effect change, so I became dean of the California Judicial College while I was a judge, followed by Judge Peggy Hora, who came after me. I took a course offered by Judge Hora in alcohol and other drugs in 1994, and all of a sudden the light came on when I understood addiction, and I realized that just telling a person, "Don't do it again or I'm going to send you to jail," was spitting in the wind. It didn't make a difference.

I was shocked to think that I had spent so much of my career, well-meaning--and as a defense lawyer I got people in programs and I really tried--well-meaning but not really understanding what addiction is.

In the defense of those in my generation, I would like to add that the information wasn't always there. It is through science and recent discoveries as to how the human brain works that we have learned more, but now there isn't really an excuse anymore, and we should know.

After leaving the bench, I went to work with West Huddleston at the National Drug Court Institute doing trainings across United States for jurisdictions interested in setting up drug courts. Marilyn Roberts, from the Office of Drug Court Programs, who is seated behind him, helps bring order to chaos, along with organizations like National Drug Court Institute, the Center, and the ABA. They bring order by attempting to find out what are the best practices, what are the red flags, what is dangerous here, what hurts people, what helps people, what works, what doesn't work, what are the technologies available to assist us in our efforts, and how we can do a better job. …

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