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Special Docket Brings Hope – and Smiles

- October 6, 2023

Judge William E. Glover does not often have reason to smile in his Spotsylvania Circuit courtroom. His docket is generally filled with heinous crimes and tales of heartbreak that would make one wonder why he did not take Plato’s advice and: “Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as judge of the highest matters.”

On Thursday, however, Glover had reason to smile in his courtroom, and his grin would have made the Cheshire Cat envious. Thursday was the first graduation for the newly-minted Behavioral Health Docket in Spotsylvania, and Glover’s smile was only exceeded by that of the first graduate of the program.

Glover came down from his bench often during the regularly scheduled docket to congratulate members on moving into a successive phase of the program which was designed to offer people with mental illness and who have committed nonviolent felonies in Spotsylvania a support system and alternative to the unyielding guilty or not guilty judgments of the criminal justice system.

But when Glover came down to address the graduate and present her with her graduation certificate it was a moment to celebrate and, by his own admission, one of his most meaningful moments in his four years as a judge.

“I can tell you that when she started, she was quite taciturn. That’s fine because everybody’s different. I would never ask a person in a courtroom or anywhere else to smile but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want her to,” he said to a crowded courtroom.

She didn’t smile at first but after a while–quite a while–she started to come forward and she smiled, and it was like the sun came out. I think the first time that [she] smiled when she came to the podium was the first time I really believed that this program could succeed, and that it had the value that all of us had been saying that it did.

By “all of us,” Glover meant an extensive support team drawn from a variety of organizations throughout the Fredericksburg area. But Glover also singled out Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Alex Vakos who first conceived of a Behavioral Health Docket for Spotsylvania after witnessing the impact it had while she was working in Norfolk. Spotsylvania is only the third jurisdiction in Virginia to have a Behavioral Health Docket along with Norfolk and Richmond. For Vakos, The first graduate was an ideal candidate for the program and ideally suited to be its first graduate.

“She’s perfect. She’s hard-working, kind, and intelligent. She was good at scheduling which is the hardest part honestly. Showing up at Spotsylvania Circuit Court and then drug testing in the city. They go 10 different places in a week and her ability to do that is unique. Without having any sort of hiccup or flaw, we could not have picked anybody better suited.”

The graduate, who read a short speech thanking many of the people who helped her get to this graduation day, said it was nice to hear everyone’s praise but conceded the path was not an easy one. The smiles she eventually offered in court belied the difficulties in completing the program. The program has accepted 14 participants since its inception nearly 18 months ago, but five have been dismissed from the program in that time. Seven members of the program were present on Thursday, as they are required to be every Thursday at 12:30, to meet with Glover to go over their progression through the three phases of the program which is supposed to take about a year to complete.

One of those members, Caroline Cole, candidly admitted that most paths to graduation are not as seamless as the graduate’s given that the potential for missteps and temptation are myriad. “I’ve had some struggles through the program,” said Cole who lives in Spotsylvania and has been in the program for nearly a year.

I’ve become very close with [the graduate] and she has encouraged me, lifted me up. So seeing her progress and her accomplishments has given me hope and driven me to do better. I’m incredibly proud of her. There are a lot of requirements and to do so with no slip ups is incredible.

Cole had one of those slip ups when she relapsed as she was close to entering phase 3 of the program and was only allowed to remain in the program if she started over from the beginning. “I had lost some close family members and was struggling and made the bad decision of using. I tested positive on a drug screen so essentially it was start over or not be involved in the program anymore.”

The graduate was all smiles on graduation day, but in keeping with her taciturn nature she declined to speak with FXBG Advance. As she left the courthouse with a few close friends, carrying balloons, flowers, and gifts provided by those who have helped along the way one would like to think that she is happy and excited to reclaim a future that includes a job as an editor for a not-for-profit, but the reality, as noted by Cole, is likely more complicated. The struggle with mental illness for the graduate and the other members in the program is ongoing and not something anyone ever truly graduates from.

The biggest graduation present the graduate received on Thursday, and arguably the biggest benefit to completing and graduating from the Behavioral Health Docket, was the dismissal of the criminal charges pending against her. When Commonwealth Attorney Travis Bird told Glover that they were dismissing all four charges against the graduate there was a smattering of applause and some cheers.

On this landmark day in Spotsylvania County, there was no request for order in the court.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Advance.

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