Orange County Collaborative Courts Foundation

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Private groups pitch in to aid defendants in collaborative courts programs offer services that many people take for granted.

By Don J. DeBenedictis

Daily Journal Staff Writer

SANTA ANA – The homeless man, a defendant in a special program at the Orange County Superior Court, needed glasses. So Kathleen Burnham picked him up, drove him to the eye doctor, paid for his eye exam and glasses, took him to lunch and dropped him back off in the Santa Ana civic center where he lives.

“Who does that, right?” Judge Wendy S. Lindley, who runs the homeless court where the man is a participant, asked about Burnham. “Who does that?”

The answer is few do, but their number may be growing.

Burnham is the executive director of Orange County’s Community Courts Foundation, one of a handful of private, nonprofit groups that assist people going through programs like drug court or veterans’ court.

There is a similar though smaller such foundation in Mendocino County plus a dozen or more around the country. And recently, a former Mendocino court staffer launched a statewide foundation to spur activity in other parts of California, from Colusa to Riverside counties.

“The foundation movement is growing although it would be hard to put a number to,” Christopher Deutsch, the director of communications for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said in an email.

The need is great. Across the country, there are about 2,600 collaborative court programs, such as drug or DUI courts, aimed at helping and tracking about 131,000 people annually with substance-abuse problems, according to the association. More than 1,000 similar collaborative courts supervise people in the criminal system because of mental health, gambling, domestic violence and other issues. California has about 300 of the courts.

The people in the court programs need “just a little help,” Burnham said. She buys them bus passes, takes them on hikes or to the museum, arranges softball games and teaches them personal finance basics.

The foundations provide “normal stuff,” Burnham said, “things you and I took for granted when we were growing up.”

The money and other resources come primarily from local contributors.

Burnham’s Community Courts Foundation gets glasses from Lenscrafters stores in Orange County, guided tours from a close friend at the Getty Museum and donations from individuals, law firms, bar groups and Allergan Inc.

The group collects about $15,000 in cash and supplies throughout the year, Burnham said, plus another $30,000 from its annual dinner.

The new statewide group, the California Collaborative Justice Courts Foundation, asks for donations from its board members and has support from some judges, other individuals, a medical products company and a family-court consultancy. The group brought in about $7,000 in donations last year, according to its annual report.

Corporate donors generally only work with nonprofits, and, courts can’t do any fundraising on their own, experts said. So both groups are set up as 501(c)(3) entities under federal tax laws.

The Orange County group formed in 2006, but Burnham began working with Lindley’s drug courts informally in 1998.

The California foundation was formed by former Mendocino court staffer Dianne Marshall in 2010 in Nevada City, stemming from a fund helping the Mendocino courts that began in 2005.

Marshall’s organization is different from Burnham’s or others around the country in that it seeks to raise money and help courts across the state, according to board member Phil Breitenbucher of Irvine-based Children and Family Futures.

“Many counties don’t have the infrastructure or resources” to set up their own nonprofit foundations, Breitenbucher said. “The idea we have is to create an umbrella group on the state level.”

Fundraising can be difficult because the donations go to assist drug addicts, drunk drivers, truants, abusive parents, the homeless and mentally disturbed people. “These are not necessarily folks that tug at your heartstrings,” said Robert H. Burnham, retired Newport Beach city attorney and Kathleen Burnham’s husband and chief volunteer.

Even finding people to be active on local advisory boards can be challenging, Breitenbucher said.

Court officials in San Bernardino have been trying to launch a private board to work with Marshall’s statewide group, but they keep postponing the effort, said Deborah Cima, the court’s collaborative courts coordinator.

“We’re interested in it at some point, when the dust has settled from other issues,” such as prisoner realignment, Cima said.

The rewards can be great. Burnham and Lindley both recall a former methamphetamine addict named Art who never smiled because the drug had destroyed his teeth. Burnham told him repeatedly she could get him free dental care, but he ignored her.

Finally, he relented, she said. The dentist told her later that Art had refused the help because he didn’t want to waste her money because he expected to die from meth.

He came to court soon after with a full set of dentures, Burnham said.

“He had a big beautiful grin,” Lindley recalled. “It was like the sun came out. He said he never thought he would live long enough to have teeth.”

Don J. DeBenedictis

L.A. Daily Journal

Orange County Bureau

(714) 543-2027 ext. 105 (best)

(714) 543-2316 (direct)

(714) 542-6841 (fax)


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