New Leaf Program Continues to Redefine Success
January 19, 2023 by Amy Patterson

Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Paschke’s docket shows new leaves can bud even in the dead of winter.

Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Paschke’s docket shows new leaves can bud even in the dead of winter.

Paschke celebrated the achievements of three new graduates of her drug court – dubbed the New Leaf Program – Jan. 12 at the Heritage House in Chardon. The program began in June 2019 and currently has 22 participants.

All three graduates, Steven Andersen, Joshua Bruening and Matthew Fioritto, worked the program after multiple run-ins with law enforcement and after struggling with addiction.

Paschke said the first drug court in the nation — which started in Dade County, Fla. — celebrated its 30th anniversary last summer, and while drug courts have since evolved and changed, they have become one of the most documented and studied criminal justice interventions available.

“(The New Leaf Program has) stringent data reporting requirements, … and we have the benefit of 30 years of understanding of some of the things that work with these type of programs,” Paschke said, adding participants are expected to show up, to tell the truth and to try their best.

“Basically, if you can comply with those three things, you’re going to be successful in this program,” she said. “And let’s face it – (if) you do those things, you’re going to be successful in most areas that matter.”

But doing those three things isn’t as easy as it sounds during the 16- to 24-month program, which includes six phases with different goals and requirements, Paschke said.

Participants must report to status hearings with the treatment team on a weekly basis to start, eventually tapering to monthly meetings. Participants are tested for substances multiple times, sometimes randomly, and must maintain contact with a probation officer.

Participants in the program are high-needs and high-risk, meaning, they risk reoffending and they often have many issues to address along with their substance use.

“They’re also required to address their medical and dental needs, which a lot of times when they come to us, they’ve been neglecting those things,” she said. “They’re also required to address work and educational goals. And they are required to abide by the law.”

Paschke said Bruening is an example of a participant who took longer than 24 months to complete the program, having entered in September 2020. However, he showed up and continues to show up, which is important considering some of the challenges he faced.

“(Bruening) didn’t have a license for quite a while at the beginning (of the program) and he was living up in Painesville, and he rode his bike here all the time,” Paschke said. “Sometimes, you need to leave really early. Sometimes, it was really cold, but you know what? He got here.”

Paschke said Bruening now has his license, as well as an apartment, a steady job and is working on his relationship with his daughter.

Bruening took the mic to express his gratitude to the treatment team, including Specialized Docket Coordinator Maureen Maruna and Probation Officer Greg Potts.

“It’s been a long journey, but I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” he said, adding he will still come around to visit.

Andersen arrived at the program after suffering some serious medical issues related to substance use, culminating in a rescue by Bainbridge fire and police departments in 2019, Paschke said.

Continually throughout his course of treatment, Andersen was a helpful presence in recovery groups, the judge said.

Andersen said two years ago, he was down and out and unhealthy, and he could not thank the treatment team enough for bringing him back up to where he is now. His remarks then pivoted to representatives from the Bainbridge fire and police departments.
“The gentlemen standing in the back, sitting down back there — you know, if it weren’t for you guys, I’d probably not be standing here today at all,” Andersen said, adding while he may not recognize each one, he recognizes the impact of what they do.

Fioritto found a unique outlet during his tenure in the New Leaf Program — raising chickens.

“Every week when he came to drug court, I’d ask him about those chickens, and for a while, he had them in his basement,” Paschke said. “But, he did build a chicken coop for them and now I think those chickens are pretty well taken care of.”

Fioritto said working with the New Leaf treatment team has allowed him to find a little bit of happiness each day that he wasn’t able to find before.

“If it wasn’t for you guys, I probably wouldn’t be here. Probably wouldn’t be alive,” Fioritto said, adding the reason he was able to open up to treatment was because of the people around him in the program.

“So, if anybody’s out there struggling with anything, whether it be substance abuse, mental health, whatever – just get help,” he said. “It doesn’t make you a weak person, it makes you stronger.”

Potts took the mic to again congratulate the graduates, adding while the 30 years of drug court statistics are important, those numbers don’t give a full picture of what success looks like for those in the program.

The first question people often ask the treatment team is what the program’s success rate is, Potts said.

“Well I get a little bit confused by that question because success is defined so differently,” he said. “I know what they’re asking. They want to know who was in your program and who made it through. Who made it here to graduation? Who didn’t have a new case? Who didn’t relapse or struggle?”

Potts said answers to those questions don’t tell the story of a person’s entire journey and while the program’s public graduations are fun, they don’t define success because success looks different for everyone.

That day’s graduates didn’t give up even when they faced challenges, and the fire they had to carry them through the program will help in the future, too, he said.

“Tomorrow is another day and there’s going to be another challenge that we’re going to have to meet,” Potts said. “Maybe we don’t make the best decision on that day. But maybe we’re able stop, think, look and then say, ‘Hmm – what is it that I need to do to get back on track? What is it that I did wrong, and then I can correct and fix?’”

Completing the program doesn’t mean life may not be tough for graduates, he added.

However, success is when a person makes a wrong decision, but knows how to get back on track, he said.

“I can honestly say that when I look at our people, whether they make it to graduation or not, I am confident to say that I know that something has been instilled in them and maybe they can make a different choice when something hard comes up,” Potts said. “Yes, this part of the journey is finished, but they’re going to continue to be a part of us. They’re going to continue to grow. They’re gonna continue to be successful.”