From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 43 - January 15, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Circuit Court Judge earns Starfish Award

by Trey Wilkinson

Sublette County Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws was recently recognized for his leadership in helping those who suffer because of mental illness and/or addiction disease. Judge Haws is among 13 citizens and programs being honored by the Wyoming Department of Health Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division with Starfish Awards during a ceremony in Cheyenne on Jan. 15.

“I was shocked,” Judge Haws said of his initial reaction after hearing he had won the award. “I know first-hand how much hard work and eff ort are expended by treatment providers and others that work in the mental health and substance abuse fi elds every day and whatever contribution I might make pales in comparison. I felt, and feel, unworthy of the award.”

Despite his not feeling worthy, it’s hard to argue that Haws is not deserving of the award. Judge Haws has played a pivotal role in the development and ongoing success of the Sublette County Treatment Court, a clientcentered, strengths-based therapeutic drug court. Team members who nominated him praised the judge for his leadership role with the Treatment Court.

The Sublette County Treatment Court Program Evaluation for this year states, “All team members attribute stability of the program and positive changes in FY07-08 to the eff ective leadership of Judge Haws.”

Haws, who said he first learned he was a recipient the award in December, will be given the award during a dinner attended by Gov. Dave Freudenthal and First Lady Nancy Freudenthal, strong advocates for improved prevention and treatment programs during the Governor’s two terms in office.

“I always look forward to an opportunity to have ‘face time’ with the Governor and the First Lady,” Haws said. “But because I feel wholly undeserving of the attention, I am a little nervous about the ceremony.”

Th ose not as involved as Haws in helping people who suff er from mental illness and addiction disease might ask what exactly is the Starfi sh Award?

The name of the award is based upon a famous story about a young boy who throws starfi sh back into the ocean to keep them from dying.

“The boy agrees with someone who asks that he can’t save them all, but points out that what he is doing made a huge diff erence to the starfish he just touched,” said Roger McDaniel, Wyoming Department of Health deputy director, over the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division. “Th ese awards acknowledge those who work tirelessly to improve the lives of people suff ering from mental illness and/or addictions.”

Judge Haws said he was aware of the Starfish Award.

“I love the story from which the award takes its name and I thought that Director McDaniel was inspired to give recognition to those that labor so hard in these fi elds,” Judge Haws said.

So why is this Circuit Court judge such an advocate for helping people who are suffering from mental illness and addiction disease?

“I am convinced that these two things (mental illness and addiction disease) contribute greatly to the crime that is committed in our community,” Haws said. “I am also convinced that if we as a community address this real root cause of much criminal behavior we will keep our friends and neighbors out of the criminal justice system.”

Just because he is being honored with the Starfish Award doesn’t mean Haws is content with what he has already done.

“There are two ways I hope to help,” he said. “First is to encourage the best and brightest people in the field to call Sublette County home. Th is is accomplished by staying in close contact with the leadership at the Curran-Seeley Foundation and at High Country Counseling. Both organizations have great leadership and commitment to our community.”

“The second way I hope to help is to lobby for the continuance of Drug Court programs in Wyoming,” Haws added. “Innovative judges that went before me had the vision to bring this program to Wyoming and to Sublette County. I believe it works.”

But these Drug Court programs don’t come without scrutiny and opponents.

“I want the public to know that the Drug Court programs are not an ‘easy way out’ for those charged with crimes in Sublette County,” Haws said. “Rather, it is a way for those who have addictions and commit crimes to get help with their addictions while paying for their criminal behavior.”

Haws gave more specifics.

“Th e program involves intense supervised probation coupled with intensive therapy,” he added. “The program takes at least one year to complete and very often much more time. All during the program, the participant/off ender is subject to frequent and random testing. Th ey must remain free from drugs and alcohol or they are sanctioned. Sanctions often involve community service and jail and do not count toward any jail sentence that may ultimately be imposed if they do not successfully complete the program.”

Haws admits the program can be both rewarding and disheartening.

“Our program has seen some remarkable successes and some heartbreaking failures,” he said. “Happily, the successes significantly outweigh and outnumber the failures.”

The Starfish Award is an opportunity to shine a light on people like Haws and the other 12 recipients of the award.

“The challenges caused by mental illness and substance abuse are already known,” McDaniel said.

“There are countless people in this state who work tirelessly to meet the challenges. With these awards, we want to shine a light on the many Wyoming success stories.”

Haws was appointed to the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial District in 2006 by Gov. Freudenthal. Th e Circuit Court judge holds a bachelor’s and law degrees from Brigham Young University in Utah, as well as a master’s degree in Chinese law from Beijing’s Tsing Hua University.

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