Thursday, May 9, 2002
Riverside Superior Court Commissioner Sichel Appointed Judge
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Riverside Superior Court Commissioner Elisabeth Sichel, who helped create the court’s program to help divorcing parents deal with substance abuse, was appointed as judge of that court by Gov. Gray Davis yesterday.
Sichel, 48, is currently presiding over family cases in downtown Riverside, where hears anywhere from 450 to 720 cases a month. Riverside Superior Court is a direct calendar court and Sichel follows her cases from start to finish.
A year after being appointed to the court as a commissioner in 1997, Sichel joined forces with Judge Jean Leonard, known as the “Johnny Appleseed of Drug Courts,” to create the Family Law Substance Abuse Court which provides treatment to parents who are substance abusers and are currently going through a divorce.
“It’s just been a fantastic project I adore doing,” Sichel said, adding that she had no idea what a drug court was when she started.
The one-year program matches parents who have substance abuse problems with treatment programs and requires regular court appearances, weekly visits at the beginning and dropping down to once a month by the end.
“We are trying to catch people before they are too far down the spectrum so they can get help, pay child support and be good parents,” she said.
At the end of the program, parents are expected either to have graduated from high school or started some vocational or post-high school education.
Sichel hears the Substance Abuse Court cases on Fridays, apart from her regular calendar.
While Sichel admits the court can be demanding because the cases can be very emotional, she said can be very rewarding to see people try so hard to improve themselves.
Parents who don’t have babysitters sometimes bring their children to their court appearances and Sichel said she makes an extra effort to make them feel at ease.
“Some of them think I’m their best friend,” Sichel said. “I always have plenty of chocolate bars-for the kids and myself.”
If she is dealing with a family through the Substance Abuse Court case, she does not hear the underlying divorce case, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
“You get so involved in these folks’ lives, I don’t think I could be fair,” she said.
In addition to her involvement with the Substance Abuse Court, Sichel has served on the Riverside Superior Court’s Information and Technology, and Drug Court programs oversight committees.
Before becoming a commissioner, spent 18 years with the Corona law firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen as a civil litigator. Sichel greatly expanded the family law practice of the firm and became a certified family law specialist.
“When I finally started to make some money at it, I up and left to become a commissioner,” Sichel joked.
Sichel is a member of the California Commissioners Association, the North American Drug Court Professionals Association, the California Judges Association and a past member of the American Business Women Association, which named her “Woman of the Year” in 1985.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company