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Justice Matt D’Emic honored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness

November 1, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justice Matthew D'Emic, the first mental health court judge in New York state, received the 2018 Criminal Justice Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Also pictured are New York state NAMI President Evelyne Tropper (left) and NAMI Criminal Justice Committee Chair Jayette Lansbury. Photo is courtesy of Matthew Shapiro from NAMI

Brooklyn’s Mental Health Court judge, Hon. Matthew D’Emic, was honored last month by the New York state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) during a ceremony in Albany on Oct. 26.

The alliance presented Justice D’Emic, who also serves as the administrative judge of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, Criminal Term, with the 2018 Criminal Justice Award, “in grateful recognition of [his] tremendous compassion toward people living with a mental illness and [his] commitment to reforming the criminal justice system and the courts in order to generate positive recovery oriented outcomes.”

The award was presented by NYS NAMI President Evelyne Tropper and NAMI Criminal Justice Committee Chairwoman Jayette Lansbury.

Justice D’Emic has presided over the Mental Health Court in Brooklyn, the first court of its kind in the country, since it was created in 2002. Approximately 925 people have successfully completed the program through his court. It has been so successful that there are now 29 other mental health courts that have handled over 9,420 cases as of 2017, according to the Office of Court Administration.

The courts attempt to address people who suffer from mental health disorders to keep them out of the criminal justice system. Judges in the court are dedicated to the cause, equipped with staffs that are specially trained to collaborate with mental health service providers.

People referred to the court pleaded guilty to their charges, but the charges are dropped if participants successfully complete the court’s 18-month mandate of medication, therapy and drug treatment and they have no criminal record. If a person does not complete the treatment, they land back in jail.

“There is a significant percentage of defendants who come through the system and suffer from a serious persistent mental illness and don’t belong in jail,” Justice D’Emic once said in article by the Center for Court Innovation. “The traditional tools that judges have don’t really work with the mentally ill.

“The mental health court provides another option. We can do an evaluation of defendants, find out if they have a serious and persistent mental illness and, if they do, determine if they want to go into treatment. And both sides have to agree, so a defense lawyer and a district attorney have to agree that a particular defendant is eligible to participate in the court.”

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The Brooklyn Mental Health Court works with about 100 cases a year, which means that it expects its 1,000th graduate sometime in 2019. The Brooklyn Eagle has learned there is talk of hosting a ceremony to mark the occasion when it happens.

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