Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer
Sometimes citizens are looking so far away for leaders they miss those in plain sight.
Chautauqua County Family Court Judge Judith S. Claire is a perfect example. She is a leader, not because she is the first and only woman to serve as a countywide judge, nor because of her many awards, including the 2012 Howe A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare. She is a leader because in 2003, she saw the need to help parents convicted of child neglect and designed a program that alters the prosecutorial role of the courtroom to one of possible rehabilitation. Though the focus of the Chautauqua County Family Treatment Drug Court is the convicted parent, the program’s impetus was Claire’s concern at the number of babies born with drug addiction in the county.
At the 9:15 a.m. Chautauqua Speaks program Thursday at the Chautauqua Women’s Clubhouse, Claire will describe the role of “Family Treatment Drug Courts. “
“Our goal is twofold — the unification of the family and breaking the cycle of addiction. The focus is on the family; children are the clients,” Claire said.
Her belief that any human being can change affects and informs her effort. Claire is compassionate, but she is a clear-eyed, crisp practitioner of tough love compassion. The one- to two-year program she will describe is based on incentives and sanctions. One of those sanctions can be jail. She said the reality is many people do not graduate. Claire embodies the ideal “that it’s better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.”
“It is not an easy path and demands responsibility and guts. The sad truth is getting their children back is not enough of a carrot,” she said. “Another sad truth is that they really love their kids, but are in the throes of addiction.”
There are successes. She quoted one participant: “I’ve been in and out of the system. This is the first time someone held my feet to the fire.”
“The court is an amazing place — it is not a place of gloom and doom. It is a place where people claim their lives,” Claire said.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Claire received her JD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. From 1978 to 1991, Claire was in private practice. She was elected judge in 1998, joined the Family Court in 1999 and was appointed an acting State Supreme Court justice in 2001. Since then, she has co-authored the Bench Book Guide for Family Court Judges. Locally, Claire has volunteered with community organizations including the Girl Scouts of America, Workforce Youth Council, and the BOCES Advisory Council.