New Judge at Charlestown Court Starts Well by Renaming Popular Program

Judge Lisa Grant has now settled in as the First Justice of the Charlestown Court, and one of her first changes to the long-time courthouse on City Square is to change the name of the popular Drug Court program – renaming it Recovery Court with the blessing of advocates and participants.

Seeking to end the stigma related to the use of Drug Court for what is truly a recovery program, Judge Grant agreed with participants and advocates in granting the name change.

“We’re not a drug court,” she said. “We’re not using drugs or talking about drugs. We’re a recovery court and people in it are working toward being clean and sober. It’s a much more positive way to approach this session. The former name was condescending and kept them in a dark place.”

Judge Grant came to be First Justice in Charlestown quietly back in July 2020 due to the fact that COVID precautions had closed down the courthouse and its sessions – including Recovery Court that has been held on Zoom for more than a year now. Long-time Judge Lawrence McCormick had been a retired judge on recall for some time, and was not called back for the new Fiscal Year in July. Judge Grant came over from the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court, which serves downtown, on a temporary basis in July, but was made the permanent First Justice in September. She was first appointed to the bench in 2014 by Gov. Deval Patrick after having been a successful criminal defense lawyer for more than 30 years.

“One thing I really like about the court is it is a community court,” said the judge. “The people that utilize the court here, whether they are defendants or seeking a restraining order or a Section 35, they are community people. Downtown in the Central Division most of the people coming through there were transient or visitors or part of the homeless community…For that reason, I enjoy being here. I can get to know people better and have more of an impact on their lives than downtown.”

Already she has made a few cosmetic changes to the courthouse and its offices, but one of the first moves she made was the name change as the Recovery Court is an integral part of the Charlestown sessions.

“Part and parcel of the First Justice here is to run the Recovery Court,” she said. “Previously, I had come here as a visiting judge. I had some experience with the people and providers here.”

That has been a very positive turn of events, as already the Recovery Court advocates like Shannon Lundin of the Charlestown Coalition are giving positive marks for Judge Grant’s first moves.

“The more we continue to associate shame with Substance Use Disorders with the words we use the less likely we will change our attitudes as a whole and get people the help they need,” she said. “People living with SUDS aren’t bad people trying to get good, they are sick people who need help to get well. Changing the words we use will help change beliefs that addiction is a moral failing, instead of what we know it to be—a chronic, treatable disease from which people can recover and continue to lead healthy lives.”

Said Recovery Coach Kevin O’Brien, “I like the new name; it’s gonna take a while to get used to, but I like it because it’s positive and not negative sounding.”

Recovery Court participant Frank Hargett said he felt the name change could save lives here.

“I believe changing the name from Drug Court to Recovery Court is a great idea because it sounds a lot less intimidating and I wholeheartedly feel just the name change itself will save lives,” he said. “Recovery Court has been a blessing to me and I know that this time around I will be more focused on the recovery instead of the drug.” 

Right now, Recovery Court has about 10 participants and a potential of adding about three more people. They all have been meeting on Zoom for the most part, and a lot of people in Recovery Court are doing quite well – though there are limitations to the computer format.

Chief Probation Officer Michelle Williams said the computer format has been wonderful, but it’s hard to detect early signs of problems online.

“What we’ve learned is when they’re on screen, we are not able to detect the early signs of them starting to fail like we used to be able to do in person,” she said.

While Recovery Court is the first step for some changes to a Courthouse that hasn’t changed much in decades, Judge Grant said the biggest thing she wants to change is the experience of fairness for all who use the court – whether for Recovery Court or for a criminal proceeding. “My thought about justice here is I want people to come to the court and feel they were treated fairly – win or lose,” she said. “At least they will feel they had respect and they will come back to the court believing they will be treated fairly. I want there to be a positive feeling about court and not such a fight.”

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