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Chief Justice praises county's drug court

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The success of the Pierce County drug court system has been highlighted by those who have completed the program along with those who have administered it.

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Tuesday, the system got another endorsement.

"Pierce County was one of the earliest counties in the state to use a drug court," said Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who visited the Pierce County Courthouse Tuesday morning. "It takes a lot of planning and training to do it. Hats off to them."

Abrahamson spent about 40 minutes talking to the local media before speaking to courthouse officials and getting a tour of the courthouse before her departure to Pepin County.

"I try to make a concerted effort to get to each county while court is in session," Abrahamson said. "And meet with the lawyers, Department of Corrections, law enforcement, county board members and any courthouse staff that is interested."

Abrahamson's morning started by attending the program's 13th graduation spearheading the discussion topic.

"It's a public safety program, as we want to eliminate drug and alcohol dependency," said the Chief Justice, who added the drug court is seen in a fair share of counties in Wisconsin, but not all of them. "Every drug court runs different to fit the county needs."

Pierce County Circuit Court Judge Robert Wing explained the basics of the program, which started in Pierce County in 2004.

Most graduates complete the program in about 18 months and have to go through aftercare, treatment and multiple weekly urinanalysis (for those who are in the program because of alcohol abuse, the testing would be breathalyzers). They have to stay employed throughout the program and appear in front of the judge about 50 times.

"The motivation is to stay out of prison," said Wing.

Added Linda Hoyt, county drug court coordinator: "It's like learning to live all over again. They've dealt with their problems in the past with drug and alcohol. Now, they are learning to live sober."

Wing explained he heard about drug court from La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge John Perlich.

"I respected what he did," Wing said. "It was something worth considering.

"It'd be a whole different approach on what we would do."

Abrahamson explained that, as Chief Justice, one of her many roles is to act as Chief Administrator for the Courts.

"To promote and support innovative programs that are being administered in various counties," she said.

Which Wing already knew.

"I knew we had the support of Madison when we started," Wing said.

Abrahamson was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Patrick Lucey in 1976. She was then the only woman to serve on the court.

She won election to the court in 1979, and re-election in 1989 and 1999. Since Aug. 1, 1996, she has been chief justice. Her current term expires July 31, 2009.

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