Brown County’s DWI Court has gotten off to a slow start as the program navigates it’s “trial and error” period, but is working its way out of that phase, the court’s judge said.

The court has four participants - one who began in February and three who began after a special docket on June 6, Brown County Court-at-Law Judge Frank Griffin said.

He said he expects July 25 to be a “red letter day” for the DWI court. For the first time, the team running court will meet to discuss the progress of all four participants. Later that day, all four participants will be together in Griffin’s court, and he will address them one at a time.

Griffin said he’ll hear reports on topics including whether the participants have been attending counseling, job status and the results of breath tests and a probation officer’s home visits.

“If there is a problem, then sanctions are determined,” Griffin said. Sanctions might include additional community service or additional counseling sessions.

“Everybody seems to be in compliance,” probation officer Jay Curtis said.

Griffin first began talking to the Bulletin about the planned DWI Court in July 2007. He described it then as a yearlong program that provides intensive counseling for drivers deemed to be in danger of becoming repeat DWI offenders.

He said the court - operated through the Brown County Court-at-Law - is intended for offenders who have one or two DWI convictions, meaning they are still misdemeanors, with possible referrals from district court, where three or more convictions makes the offense a felony.

He said the court is similar to the ADAPT (A Drug and Alcohol Problem Treatment) designed by District Judge Steve Ellis.

Like ADAPT participants, DWI Court offenders receive counseling through the Mid-Tex Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

“It will involve counseling. It will involve a more hands-on support by the court and a much closer supervision by the probation department,” Griffin said in a July 2007 interview.

He said there are three basic groups of DWI offenders: one-time offenders; repeat offenders who need to be locked up in prison to protect society; and offenders “in the middle” - who may stay sober for awhile but then reoffend.

“It’s going well,” Assistant Brown County Attorney Elisha Nix said. “It’s starting to get off the ground. we’re real excited about the new people starting it.”

Griffin, addressing the pace of the court so far, said, “I don’t know that it’s sputtered. We found that some of procedural things that were done in larger jurisdictions did not work here. It was trail and error.”

He said some defense attorneys had to be convinced the DWI court is in their clients’ best interests.

“Some defense attorneys were worried (participants) were being set up in a situation where their clients were exposing themselves to long terms in jail, and goals they couldn't’ meet,” Griffin said.

“We had to convince them to object was to keep them out of jail. I had attorneys ask me ‘what’s going to happen if I put him in the project and he messes up?’ Because this is a treatment program, I have more options available to me if they do mess up.”

Defense attorney Fred Franklin, a member of the DWI Court team, said he is “absolutely” optimistic the court will succeed. “I have the highest expectations,” Franklin said, noting that the court will involve accountability, counseling and monitoring.

The DWI Court is important, Franklin said, because in some case regular probation isn’t enough for DWI offenders, nor are they motivated by the threat of prison.

“People who have addictions that are driving the criminal activity have got to get therapy by trained therapist,” Franklin said.

Griffin said he thinks the DWI Court made a successful start. “We’ll say it’s a success when I start graduating people without having recidivism problems,” Griffin said.