Friday, January 12, 2007
Judge DeShazer to Receive Martin Luther King Jr. Award
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Ellen C. DeShazer is set to be honored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke today for her work in the Drug Court program.
Burke told the MetNews yesterday that she will present the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award to DeShazer because the judge is “so deserving” of the award, which annually recognizes leaders “who exemplify the ideals and commitments of” the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“She just doesn’t sit there and give sentences and hear cases, but she sees a responsibility to utilize her position in a positive way to change the lives of people coming before her,” Burke said.
The award presentation is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr.-Harbor UCLA Hospital’s H. Claude Hudson Auditorium, as part of the Second Supervisorial District’s Martin Luther King, Jr. 25th Annual Celebration.
DeShazer, who sits in the Compton courthouse, began running drug court in 1998, three years after being appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. Following the passage in 2000 of Proposition 36, which gives first- and second-time nonviolent drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration, she began hearing those cases as well.
“I’m just committed to offering people who are really interested in giving up a life of crime that is brought on by their alcohol and drug addition an opportunity to do something about it,” she said, explaining that the traditional legal process does not address the deeper issues of substance abuse that drive many to break the law.
For example, the judge remarked, one man who graduated from the program yesterday said the program offered him the constant interaction with the court that he needed to turn his life around, after the loss of his family and home failed to provide him with sufficient motivation.
Drug Court, which launched in 1992 and now operates in a dozen courthouses throughout the county, allows adults arrested on possession or under-the-influence to pursue a 12-to-24 month treatment plan that is created jointly by the prosecution, defense, probation department and a treatment team. Prop. 36 operates similarly, but its term is one year with six months of aftercare.
DeShazer noted that Drug Court not only makes an important contribution to society as a whole, but is very relevant resource for lawyers and judges in particular:
“Everybody has the same opportunity to become addicted,” she commented. “We think we don’t we think because we are in certain economic classes and have Harvard degrees that these things are not going to happen to us.”
But drugs are “an equal opportunity destroyer,” she asserted.
Prior to being named a judge of the Compton Municipal Court, from which she was later elevated to the Superior Court, DeShazer was a municipal court commissioner and worked in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
“Somewhere in the back of my head I always had the belief that we were here to do something else other than to just simply dispense justice, and that I have an obligation to reach out and also be a part of the solution in terms of finding ways to help people who are really, really struggling in their lives,” she said.
Past King award recipients from the legal community include Senior U.S District Judges Terry Hatter and Consuelo Marshall, Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Vaino Spencer of this district’s Div. One, Consuelo Marshall, and the late criminal defense attorney Johnnie Cochran.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company