Judge Katharine Sullivan named the Fifth Judicial District’s Judge of the Year | VailDaily.com

Judge Katharine Sullivan named the Fifth Judicial District’s Judge of the Year

EAGLE — Being named Judge of the Year is what it feels like to slam dunk to beat Duke at the buzzer.

Katharine Sullivan, Eagle County Court Judge, gets that.

Sullivan is the 5th Judicial District's Judge of the Year: Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties.

"It meant so much because I love the people I work with," Sullivan said. "We have such a great team in the 5th Judicial District."

"I feel very lucky to get to work here," she said.

Alternative to incarceration

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Sullivan launched Eagle County's problem solving court in October 2009, after serving as a judge for more than a decade.

Problem solving court is officially called Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, and it's sort of the court of last resort for drug and alcohol offenders.

Some resist joining the program because they want to keep their addiction a secret.

"If you're at the point of getting into my program, it's not a secret. You may think it's a secret, but it's not a secret," Sullivan said.

Two ways in

There are two doorways into Sullivan's courtroom: the big wooden doors to the Justice Center hallway and freedom, and the small metal door that leads to the jail. Most people in her Adult Intensive Supervision Probation program have experienced both.

Mark got his first DUI at 15, and all kinds of other alcohol-related crimes. He'd been on probation numerous times and spent time in several county jails and was facing a two-year prison sentence.

The alternative court was not the path of least resistance, he said.

"There were times I wished I had taken the two-year sentence because it would have been easier," he said. "But it kept me so busy I didn't have time to think about drinking."

He said he likes sober Mark.

"I learned I'm not prefect, but perfection would limit me. Imperfection gives me the freedom of a million potentials," he said.

Then there's the guy who had shown no emotion through the 18 months he spent in the program. On Graduation Day, Sullivan grinned from ear to ear, facing her graduates. The man was sobbing.

"I've never graduated from anything in my life," he said.

Reducing recidivism

Of the dozens of people who have completed Eagle County's problem-solving court, only 11 percent have landed back in jail. For those who don't, recidivism tops 50 percent.

"Incarceration does not benefit a community," Sullivan said. "People go into jail with issues, and come out of jail with issues. Nothing changes."

It's not for everyone. Violent criminals need not apply, and it's not for first-time offenders.

Sullivan can be a force of nature, and like all such forces you'd better be prepared to meet it. Each week, clients in problem solving courts get a few minutes with the judge, who will ask them to tell her something good that happened to them because they were sober.

You'd better be prepared with an answer.

They take a team approach. Sullivan is the team captain, and is joined by jailers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, counselors and several others — all of whom are volunteers.

Clients have lots of eyes on them as they learn life skills, such as how to write a resume and land a job. All of that creates stability, and stability tends to get people back on the right track, Sullivan said.

The right track runs like this:

• 365 consecutive days sober.

• Complete 12-step programs.

• Keep a job.

Some people can complete the program in a year, but you have up to two years.

How you win

Colorado's state judicial branch has several categories. Every judicial district nominates several people for each category, and this year Sullivan was named Judge of the Year. The winners are announced at the district picnic, and the winners advance to the state level.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

By the numbers

Of the 145 people who have completed Eagle County’s Problem-Solving Courts, only 11 percent returned jail.

Nationally, 75 percent of those who complete programs are not re‐arrested.

That saves up to $13,000 for every individual.

The return is $27 for every $1 invested.

It costs between $32,000 and $35,000 to keep someone in jail for a year in Eagle County.

Problem-solving courts cost $5,600 per person, per year.

The Fifth Judicial District has four Problem Solving Courts: Two DUI Courts in Lake and Eagle counties, and two Drug Courts in Summit and Eagle counties.

The Fifth’s DUI Courts have a graduation rate of 75 percent.

Drug Courts nationally have a graduation rate of 52 percent.

These courts have been running since 2009 & 2010 in the Fifth Judicial District, and since 1989 nationally.

What you do

In Judge Katharine Sullivan’s Problem-Solving Court program, Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, all clients follow four basic steps:

1. They spend time with the judge.

2. They understand incentives and consequences.

3. They’re part of a strong treatment program.

4. They’re monitored for drug and alcohol use.

It’s a little like school. It starts on time. If you’re late you can get detention, except detention is across the hall at the Eagle County Crossbar Hotel.

You miss a group meeting, you go to jail.

You lie to the judge or her team, you go to jail.

You’re caught drinking, you go to jail. You have to put together 365 straight days of sobriety.

Across the country

2,966 treatment courts are in operation in all 50 states, plus US territories

150,000 substance‐addicted individuals are helped each year.

Since 1989, these courts have touched more than 1.4 million lives and saved billions of tax dollars.