November 2012 - Leaving a Legacy of Compassionate and Meaningful Change for the Underrepresented: The Honorable Wendy S. Lindley
by Lei Lei Wang Ekvall
The OCBA is proud to honor Orange County Superior Court Judge Wendy S. Lindley with the 2012 Harmon G. Scoville Award. Judge Lindley’s innovation, courage, determination, and heart have led to the establishment of several problem-solving courts in Orange County. Under Judge Lindley’s leadership, the first Drug Court in Orange County was established in 1994, Orange County’s Homeless Outreach Court was opened in 2003, and the first Combat Veterans Court (first in California and second in the country) was launched in 2008. Recently, Judge Lindley established a new mental health court program for criminal offenders who are likely to be declared incompetent to stand trial. These problem-solving court programs have aided thousands of underrepresented individuals in our community. As a result, Orange County is widely recognized as home to California’s most innovative courts, inspiring courts from around the country to improve access to justice and judicial administration through collaborative justice. Judge Lindley was honored as this year’s Harmon G. Scoville Award recipient at the OCBA Annual Volunteer Recognition Reception on October 9, 2012 at the OCBA Annual Volunteer Recognition Reception on October 9, 2012 at Promenade & Gardens by Turnip Rose in Costa Mesa.
The Harmon G. Scoville Award was created and named in honor of Justice Harmon G. Scoville, a dedicated jurist and lawyer who well served Orange County as a judge from 1967 to 1988. Judge Scoville was later appointed to the Court of Appeal, 4th District, Division 3, where he served as presiding justice. Each year, since 1990, the Harmon G. Scoville Award has been presented to a member of the Orange County legal community whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession, who has significantly contributed to the OCBA, and who has championed our constitutional system of justice.
Judge Lindley has worked tirelessly to redefine the role of the courts and improve access to justice. Those who have benefitted from her foresight and passion include combat veterans, the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill. A proud mother of three and an even prouder grandmother of three, Judge Lindley considers these collaborative court programs her proudest accomplishments, after her family, of course. In her chambers, she beams when showing off several photo collages of babies born drug-free to parents in the collaborative courts system.
Judge Lindley’s inspiration for these collaborative courts stems partially from her time as a Deputy District Attorney in Mariposa County, her time on the bench as an Orange County Municipal Judge appointed by Governor Wilson in 1994, and as an Orange County Superior Court Judge beginning in 1998. Judge Lindley saw drug addiction as a key cause for the high rate of recidivism. In 1994, she fought to establish the first Drug Court in Orange County.
Today, there are Drug Courts at each of the five county justice centers in Orange County. In order to be an eligible candidate for Drug Court, the defendant must enter a plea of guilty to the offense and then serve a suspended sentence pending the successful completion of the Drug Court program. The program includes intensive supervision by a Drug Court probation officer, individual and group counseling provided by the Health Care Agency’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, and frequent court appearances to discuss the participant’s progress. The program, lasting a minimum of 18 months, requires participants to maintain their sobriety, earn their GED, if needed, and obtain or maintain employment. Former addicts have to become responsible, productive members of the community. At graduation, a motion is made and granted for dismissal of the drug charges against each successful participant.
Presently, the county-wide Drug Court program has an enrollment of 370 people, and has graduated more than 1,800 participants, saving more than $36.5 million in jail and prison bed costs. Women who have participated in the Drug Court program have given birth to more than 150 drug-free babies, saving the healthcare system millions of dollars. Judge Lindley is most proud when showing off her photo collages of babies and participants when they return to visit her with their sobriety chips.
From 2002 to 2006, motivated by the understanding that incarceration without treatment also fails to rehabilitate offenders who suffer from mental illness, and noting that there was an overlap between the populations of drug addicts and people suffering from mental illness, Judge Lindley helped secure funding from several different sources to start three separate mental health court programs based on the Drug Court model.
Recently, Judge Lindley established a new mental health court program for criminal offenders who are likely to be declared incompetent to stand trial, providing them with immediate mental health services rather than leaving them to languish for months in custody while their competency is being determined. Presently, 185 people are enrolled in Judge Lindley’s mental health court programs, from which 167 participants have graduated—medication-compliant, free of substance addiction, and pursuing achievable life goals. In the last two years alone, these programs saved more than
$1.6 million in jail and prison bed costs.
In 2003, Judge Lindley established the Homeless Outreach Court, a program that gives homeless people access to the court system to resolve infractions and low-level misdemeanors, to address their mental health and substance abuse issues, and to connect them with the rehabilitative support that can help them regain their self-sufficiency, including physical health services, educational and vocational resources, and transitional housing. The Homeless Outreach Court, which is held at three sites in Orange County, including homeless shelters, currently has more than 900 active participants.
In November 2008, Judge Lindley opened the first Combat Veterans Court in California, which is the second of its kind in the entire nation. The Combat Veterans Court serves combat veterans with mental health issues who find themselves in the criminal justice system. The mission of the Combat Veterans Court is to provide an inter-agency, collaborative, non-adversarial treatment strategy for veterans in the criminal justice system who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or psychological or substance abuse problems as a result of having served in a combat theater. Like the Drug Court, the Combat Veterans Court program participants must plead guilty to the offense and serve a suspended sentence pending completion of the program, which lasts a minimum of 18 months. The participant must have seen active combat to be eligible. A team that is similar to the team assembled for Drug Court participants but that also includes representatives of various veteran service groups, including the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, is assembled to counsel, guide, and assist the veterans’ re-integration into society. Even for those who are not eligible, the Combat Veterans Court program finds ways to ensure that “no veteran goes unserved,” assisting non-eligible veterans to navigate the Department of Veteran Affairs. The program has saved the lives of combat veterans, has protected the safety of the public and the veteran’s family, and has helped to focus and deliver the resources of the Veteran Affairs healthcare system to those in need. In 2011, for the creation of the Combat Veterans Court, the Orange County Superior Court received from the California Judicial Council a Ralph N. Kleps Award for Improvement in the Administration of the Courts.
Judge Lindley’s leadership and innovation have also had a great multiplier effect within the Orange County Superior Court, inspiring other judicial officers to use the problem-solving model to create a wide variety of nationally recognized programs that have graduated more than 160 drug-free youths and 840 repeat-offense drunk drivers, and have saved the county more than $12.8 million in jail bed costs and nearly $6 million in out-of-home placement costs for children of parents with addiction.
Many of the collaborative courts are held at the Orange County Community Court in Santa Ana, which opened its doors in October 2008. Judge Lindley credits Judge Frederick P. Horn’s vision and support for the courthouse, which was once the Buffum’s department store building. Some of the murals from Buffum’s remain, such as the one pictured in the background of the photo accompanying this article.
The courthouse itself is also a labor of love. Judge Lindley wanted to make sure that when people entered the courthouse, they weren’t intimidated. In keeping with the theme of the Spanish murals left over from Buffum’s, Judge Lindley recruited a friend to teach her how to lay Spanish-style tiles at the entrance of and around the courthouse. She found wrought iron chandeliers on the Internet. In front of the courthouse on the sidewalk is a sandwich board welcoming “walk-ins” and telling passersby that inside the court there are addiction services, medical and mental health services, veteran’s services, and referrals for housing, rehabilitation, and employment.
When you enter the courthouse, your senses are assaulted with the high level of energy and enthusiasm. It is a full house, with representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Public Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, the Orange County Probation Department, law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and other veteran agencies. Medical personnel can also be found at the courthouse. There is even a small room for children to play while their parents appear in court. Having all of the various services and agencies under one roof has improved the success of the collaborative courts. Before, for example, Judge Lindley worried about sending mentally ill individuals to seek medical assistance miles away, concerned that a breakdown or psychotic episode would occur during the trip. Now, she can direct that individual to go outside the courtroom and two doors down the hallway. Judge Lindley also fought hard for a small kitchen to be built in the courthouse to make it conducive for meetings with the various agencies. The collaboration of the court with the various agencies is the foundation to the success of Judge Lindley’s problem-solving courts.
So how does one woman accomplish all this? If you’ve met her, you would not be surprised by what Judge Lindley has accomplished. Her energy is palpable. However, as Judge Lindley is fond of saying, “it takes a village.” She includes many people she credits for the success of the collaborative courts. And while it’s true that it often takes a village, it also takes an extraordinary woman with the highest level of dedication, energy, foresight, courage, and compassion to get the rest of the village going.
Judge Lindley has made a real and meaningful difference in our community, and her legacy is inspirational. When she retires from the bench in a year, she will be missed. It’s not clear, however, whether she will have time to miss us. She is planning to attend to her grandchildren, visit girls she sponsors in Malawi, and spend time on a myriad of other interests, including reading, exercising, hiking, travelling, gardening, and cooking. She is also interested in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children. She must be Superwoman!
Lei Lei Wang Ekvall is chair of the OCBA Awards Committee. She practices corporate insolvency and bankruptcy law at Weiland, Golden, Smiley, Wang Ekvall & Strok. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.