There is an adage that an expert is someone that is at least fifty miles from his hometown. The reason is that we often take for granted those who are closest to us. This column has noted on many occasions that the Lycoming County government has frequently been recognized for excellence on a statewide basis, but this barely gets noticed because these exceptional performers are local.
One of those areas that fly under the radar is the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Nancy Butts has been an incredible leader and recognized throughout the Commonwealth for her creative initiatives. Judge Joy McCoy, likewise, has become a recognized expert in the Commonwealth for her work hearing cases involving divorce, child custody, child support, domestic abuse, etc. under cases brought before her Family Court. And, of course, she also has pioneered approaches such as utilizing Jedi, the therapy dog.
And now, Judge Marc Lovecchio is about to become a key component for the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the area of developing guidelines for law and medical collaboration in relation to opioid-related offenses. Out of all the judges in the state, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor selected Lycoming County Judge Marc Lovecchio to be the state’s representative at the National Justice College faculty preparation seminar titled, “Justice-Involved Individuals with Substance Use Disorders: Cultivating Law and Medicine Partnerships” at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.
This is not just some judicial junket. Rather, it promises to be a seminal moment that could be a turning point in American jurisprudence. Judges from 45 states across the United States will be attending this three-day interactive seminar. What is hoped to come out of this very special judicial collaboration will be some evidenced-based best practices to assist all those involved in the judicial system that prosecutes cases related to drugs and mental health.
Bringing justice is not as simple as it seems. Very simply, the world has changed radically in this new millennium in many different ways, and the impact of drugs has been one of them. In the past, the judicial system was primarily retributive in nature — commit the crime, and you’ll do the time. But, what if simple incarceration does not produce the desired effect of preventing the violator from offending again? What if the problem is more related to biological rather than behavioral patterns? And if so, how should the judicial system come to grips with the fact that many individuals need specialized help as much as anything else to prevent further criminal acts?
How this square can be circled is what Judge Loveccio, and the other judges, and various professionals will be studying and discussing in this seminar. Through this collaboration, it is hoped that some best practices could be agreed upon, which could be used as guidelines and perhaps even the accepted standards that judges would use when these cases come before them.
Judge Lovecchio is passionate about justice, but not the old-fashioned retributive justice. He knows that locking up a problem does not take care of the problem. Protecting the public is critical, but it is likewise important to ensure that this individual is not merely in a Merry-Go-Round that will land them back in prison again. So what is the best way to deal with those who are detoxing? What is the best practice with probation violations? Every person going through drug and mental health issues is unique. There is not a one-size-fits-all for all these issues. Justice has to be individualized with parameters.
It will be exciting to hear back when Judge Lovecchio returns from Nevada later in November and reports on the collaborative conference. Though his outlines to the various BAR associations across the state will be highly technical, this column will feature the layman’s translation. This is not just ‘good-to-know’ type of information. In many ways, this will impact almost everyone in our county in one way or another.
Larry Stout welcomes your comments or input. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.