Circuit court program helps people 'become clean and sober'
Clackamas County Circuit Judge Michael Wetzel on Jan. 16 officially took over the drug court program.
Wetzel said the objective of the treatment court is twofold: Addressing the underlying substance abuse to help individuals, and keeping the community safe over the long term from individuals who are struggling with substance abuse.
Clackamas County Circuit Judge Kathie Steele asked Wetzel to take over the program this year; she had run the program since 2010 until her recent appointment as presiding judge.
Wetzel is familiar with how controlled substances affect families, along with the need for treatment and supervision of affected individuals. For more than two years, he has led a specialized court for people who have been convicted of driving under the influence.
He also leads the juvenile-dependency hearings, which are most likely triggered when the state's Department of Human Services takes children from their parents for the child's protection.
"When the state removes minors from their parents, the legal goal is to reunite parents with their children by getting the parents into treatment and into stable housing with a stable source of income," Wetzel said. "I have a number of dependency cases where I know that my parents are accountable there and that supervision can really help a case along through the drug court."
Wetzel recently graduated a woman from drug court because she was helped along by her participation in a dependency court in another county.
"Through the drug court, she successfully completed a program to become clean and sober," Wetzel said. "She's expecting another child, and now she's looking forward to spending time with her newborn."
Wetzel also works closely with the Clackamas County Circuit judge who runs the mental health court where people diagnosed with a mental illness like schizophrenia get supervision by the court and Clackamas County Community Corrections. Referrals may come from treatment providers, Community Corrections, attorneys, county-jail mental health staff and the district attorney's office.
Wetzel currently is overseeing drug court for a father who has some mental health issues and whose children are in DHS care. One of the main barriers to reunification is keeping dad stable and on his medication, Wetzel said, but the judge knows that the mental health court is helping supervise the case.
"If he's in compliance there, then that can give me assurance that his kids are safe visiting with him," Wetzel said. "The treatment plus the accountability to the court — to the good things they've done, and the slip ups and having consequences to that — seems to be the real key to success."
Wetzel was first elected to the bench by Clackamas County voters in 2012. He lives near Happy Valley in unincorporated Clackamas County.
Caleb Sorenson, 31, was one of the Adult Drug Court participants who graduated on Jan. 22. He was arrested on multiple felony warrants in 2015 and spent more than a year in prison, before being released to drug court in 2016.
As previously reported by this newspaper, Sorenson met all the requirements for the graduation under Judge Steele. He became the general manager of a new location of Legit Roofing, where he currently is a project manager.
"I have grown a lot further than I expected, and I owe that all to this program," Sorenson told the Clackamas Review in January.
Sorenson also noted the importance of being accountable.
"Some people rely on the structure [of drug court] to keep them in line, but it is structure plus time that equals integrity. You have to take advantage of time to work on yourself; put in the effort to change yourself," he said.