Award would recognize county judge’s leadership in establishing the Comprehensive Treatment Court
The Sarasota County commissioners this week took only moments to offer their endorsement of the nomination of a county judge for a Florida Supreme Court Award recognizing judicial excellence.
The nominee is Judge Erika Quartermaine, who won more praise this week from the commissioners for taking the lead on the establishment of a Comprehensive Treatment Court to assist individuals who have mental or behavioral health problems and who have been arrested on misdemeanor charges. During an April 2017 presentation to the county board, Quartermaine explained how she had worked over the previous year with the State Attorney’s and Public Defender’s office, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and her colleagues in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to lay the foundation for the Comprehensive Treatment Court. Last fall, she won a state grant for the initiative; the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and the City and County commissions provided the necessary matching funds for the three-year pilot program.
County Administrator Tom Harmer brought up the request for the endorsement during his March 21 report to the board, noting that nominations were due by March 31.
Lynette Herbert, the public health services manager with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, had emailed Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham on March 16, explaining the request. Chief Judge Charles E. Williams of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and court administrative staff, she wrote, were asking that County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo sign a copy of the draft letter she was attaching to the email. That correspondence, along with a letter from Sheriff Tom Knight, Herbert continued, would accompany the nomination for Quartermaine.
She added an explanation from the court system’s administrative staff regarding the honor: “The Award for Judicial Excellence recognizes a judge who has exemplified judicial excellence, including strength of character, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, knowledge of the law, sound judgment, professional ethics, intellectual courage, compassion, and decisiveness. The Award pays tribute to judges whose achievements exceed the normal expectations of the office. One example includes implementing innovative court programs or processes to address issues affecting the justice system.”
Court administrative staff added, “The letter supports Judge Quartermaine’s campaign to create/implement the Comprehensive Treatment Court in Sarasota County. It recognizes her desire to find an alternative for the repeat offenders who were being arrested for what many consider to be status crimes. Offenders who often suffer from mental illness and many who are homeless. The nomination will outline her task of bringing together local community representatives, law enforcement, attorneys, and civic leaders in order to benefit the defendants, legal system and community as a whole from concept to funding/implementation.”
Herbert noted in her email, “We hope a [County Commission] letter of support will highlight at the state level Judge Quartermaine’s three year, $2.4 million project that will help divert the mentally ill from the jail and toward health care and self-sustenance and make a positive impact on Sarasota County.”
Addressed to Debbie Howells in the Office of the State Courts Administrator, the letter says Quartermaine’s “achievements exceed the normal expectations of the office.” Her campaign to create the CTC, it continues, “was in direct response to the need she saw in front of her as a County Court Judge. Many offenders before her were repeat offenders being arrested and jailed for crimes such as illegal lodging and open container violations. These offenders were often homeless and exhibited signs of underlying mental illness. Sarasota County had simultaneously been exploring options for what could be done to work with the homeless population and provide services.”
The letter adds, “Sarasota County has become a model program for how the legal system deals with the homeless population and the impetus for improving that process was Judge Quartermaine’s efforts to put it all together.”
“I am more than happy to endorse the letter,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said after Harmer concluded his remarks. “It’s a well-written letter,” Detert added. “It explains how great Judge Quartermaine is. The work that she has done has been amazing. … She’s really done a yeoman’s job. I wholeheartedly approve of the letter.”
“I would agree wholeheartedly,” Caragiulo responded.
Later, commissioners talked at more length about the Comprehensive Treatment Court as they reiterated their belief that the community needs some type of triage center to help the homeless. (See the related story in this issue.)