Tuesday, December 05, 2000

Drug court might offer live lesson




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        Jim Slattery, Cincinnati lawyer, and Robert Downey Jr., Hollywood actor, have a lot in common. Both are handsome and talented. Jim lost a house in Indian Hill, a sailboat and his expensive car. Robert Downey Jr. lost a house in Malibu, his expensive car and his freedom. Both are addicts.

        Alcohol, in Jim's case.

        As for actor Robert Downey Jr., well, God only knows what all he has shoved up his nose and down his throat and into his veins. Palm Springs, Calif., police say they found cocaine and methamphetamines in his $600-a-night luxury villa. Not for the first time, of course.

        Describing his addiction to a judge in 1999, Mr. Downey said, “It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth, with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal.” The judge sentenced him to jail to save his life.

        After spending most of the past year in a California prison, he was paroled and was caught again with drugs over Thanksgiving weekend. He told the cops who arrested him, “You have ruined my life.”

        Jim Slattery shakes his head and rolls his eyes.
       

"Blaming somebody else'
               “That is what somebody says to me on the first day,” he says. “Blaming somebody else.”

        The “first day” is the day Jim, a public defender assigned to Hamilton County's drug court, meets his client. “By the time somebody graduates from our program, they have stopped blaming other people.”

        He leans forward, a little of the convert's zeal in his eyes, “And if Robert Downey Jr. had been in our program, he wouldn't have been two counties away trying to figure out what to do on Thanksgiving.”

        That decision, he says, already would have been made by his probation officer, treatment specialist, judge and Mr. Downey. “Not some agent or television producer.”

        In a USA Today interview, the actor's uncle blamed the pressures of Hollywood. “If you're as sensitive and fragile as Robert, it's a setup for disaster.”

        Again, shaking his head, this time adding a sigh. “Stress? Somebody making $9 an hour and hoping against hope her children might have a slightly better chance. Now, that's stress,” Jim says.

        Like Mr.Downey, Jim relapsed. More than once. But he struggled back, has been sober for six years now. “It's hard work, and you need a lot of people on your side. But I am a living success story for the system.”

        Proud of the success stories coming out of drug court, intensive treatment and counseling as an alternative to jail, he cites statistics — less than 10 percent recidivism and less than a sixth the cost of putting the same person in jail.

        Hamilton County's first drug court judge, Deidra Hair, plans to retire Dec. 31, and Jim Slattery is rumored to be on the short list of possible appointees. He hopes the rumors are true.

        So do I. For druggies who think their life is over, he would be living, breathing proof that it is not.

        He'd be sitting up there in front of them behind a big, elevated, mahogany bench with attorneys “your honoring” him all over the place. If they tried to pull some of the druggie tricks, he'd jerk their leash good. He'd be all over their case. Literally.

        Even better, he would remind them of what they have in common.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393.
       

       



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