Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ohio’s Founding Community Has Its First Certified Drug Court

Image of Judge Mark Kerenyi

Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi fulfilled a pledge to create the court’s first Supreme Court-certified specialty court.

Image of Judge Mark Kerenyi

Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi fulfilled a pledge to create the court’s first Supreme Court-certified specialty court.

More than 200 years ago, Marietta was home to the state's first settlement. Now, it’s home to Washington County’s first Ohio Supreme Court-certified drug court.

The Compass Drug Court program, under the guidance of Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi, recently received its final certification from the Ohio Supreme Court.

“The program is the most rewarding experience in my practice of law,” Judge Kerenyi said.

The former magistrate recognized the need for treatment-based rehabilitation years ago during his work for the juvenile and probate courts. Young offenders would eventually “pass up the ladder” and face criminal charges as adults.

Like many before him, Judge Kerenyi, who also had served as an assistant prosecutor, thought incarceration was the solution to the drug epidemic.

“I didn't buy into the addiction as a disease. We needed to punish these people and change their ways,” Judge Kerenyi explained. “Then I realized we weren't going to imprison our way out of the problem.”

Former Marietta Municipal Judge Milt Nuzum had a similar epiphany that led him to create a drug court before the current certification procedures were enacted. It began in 2002 and operated until 2006, when Nuzum stepped down from the bench.

“It took me awhile to understand the disease of drug addiction,” said Nuzum, the Supreme Court’s director of Judicial Services since 2011. “I think drug court was the best thing I did as a judge.”

When Judge Kerenyi took office as a judge in 2017, he pledged to create a fully certified drug court. His efforts began with research, planning, and conversations -- with community partners and the public.

He first addressed the financials. The approximately $300,000 annual cost of the specialty court is funded through grants. Those include Targeted Community Alternative Monies to Prison through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and assistance from the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.

That fiscal certainty allowed the court to focus on finding a holistic provider with experience to guide the fledgling program and to assist with the workload that can be challenging for rural courts that have smaller staffs. The court chose Oriana House, a nationally renowned community corrections and chemical dependency treatment agency, which assists several courts and other specialized dockets in northern Ohio.

“We had a head start. We had the materials that other courts could have used,” Judge Kerenyi said.

He shared the same sentiment regarding his Supreme Court certification. Under guidance from the Court’s Specialized Docket Section, Compass Drug Court can learn best practices being used by other programs across the state.

After laboring for years on development and implementation, Judge Kerenyi is seeing the rewards.

The five-phase program that lasts a minimum of 14 months already has five graduates, one of whom became a peer support specialist.

“I get to see these people change. There’s a whole lot of pride to watch these people come in, seeing them grow and improve themselves,” Judge Kerenyi said.

The drug court’s success is prompting potential expansion with another specialized docket at the common pleas court, specifically a mental health court or veterans court.

The specialty program’s goals are to help the participants and also create awareness and word-of-mouth in the community. The effectiveness of treatment and services can be an avenue for others struggling with substance use issues, and the signs of progress can inspire other residents to help however they can.

We want to continue to go out and do some good,” Judge Kerenyi said.