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Salem News - "Stratton Makes Area Visit"

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Location: Salem, OH

Salem News - "Stratton Makes Area Visit"

SALEM — Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton said she's still focusing on mental health issues in her bid for a third term, but she doesn't consider using alternatives to jail as being soft on crime.

"I like to think of it as being smart on crime," she said.
During an interview Monday, the 55-year-old jurist talked about her re-election campaign, her
commitment to mental health initiatives both statewide and on a national level and her new hobby, fly fishing with her husband.

As a former trial judge in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, she said she uses a practical, common sense approach in her work. The same could be said for her approach to mental health issues and her attempt to help people with mental illness.

"If you don't help them get back into the community, they're going to be right back in the system," she said in reference to a re-entry program for inmates.

Stratton said some wonderful strides have been made since she last spoke to the Salem News in 2002. When she first started pushing for the formation of mental health courts, there were two in Ohio. Now there are 35 in Ohio, with another 100 nationwide, making the Buckeye state a leader in the field.

Columbiana County Municipal Court Judge Carol Ann Robb started a mental health court program last year titled STAR, which stands for Successful Treatment and Recovery. Stratton commended Robb for her leadership in getting the program going and said she really likes the name because it takes the stigma out of it. The Municipal Court level is ideal for a mental health court because the offenders committing the low level misdemeanors are "the ones that keep cycling in and out of prison," she said.

The court pulls all the necessary resources together to help the person get what they need, whether it's mental health counseling, housing or alcohol or drug abuse counseling. Mental health courts can reduce crime rates, make a community safer, free up court resources and lead to less injury for police officers responding to calls.

Stratton formulated the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness and the Courts in 2001 to focus on implementation of mental health programs. Now she's involved in a national effort to repeat across the country what's been accomplished in Ohio.

Also at the state level, she said they're working to train police officers to use a different approach when responding to calls involving people with mental health issues, offering Crisis Intervention Team training. The officers taking the training learn about mental illness and how to respond to the people in a gentler way. Some officers in Columbiana County have taken a modified version of the training.

"This training really gives you a better opportunity to help people," Stratton said. Supportive housing has also been an issue, with no progress made if a person isn't placed in a stable housing environment, she noted.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand to missionary parents, Stratton adopted her parents life of service, working her way through college and becoming an attorney, then judge.

"They inspired me to try to make a difference in the world," she said.

She received her law degree from Ohio State University and worked in private practice until being elected as a Common Pleas Court judge, where she earned the nickname "The Velvet Hammer" for her tough sentencing practices.

She was appointed to the Supreme Court in March 1996, won election to her first term and then won re-election in 2002.

She and her husband, John A. Lundberg III, have two sons in college: one in film school in California and one majoring in music in Boston.

As for the fly fishing, she realized one day while writing her first death penalty case on the banks of a creek in Montana as her husband fished that something was seriously wrong. She decided to leave the legal papers behind, relax and clear her mind through fishing.

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