As Larry Phillips dons the judicial robes in the 59th, the man who has sat on that bench for 20 years moves into a new phase of his career. Judge Rim Nall took the bench in 1997 and retired last year, two years shy of his unexpired term that ends in 2020. He plans to continue to work as a visiting judge.
In a recent interview, Nall said one of the things of which he is the most proud about during his tenure has been the implementation of the drug court program.
Nall said when he first took the bench, he started to notice that he saw some of the same faces over and over again. He said they seemed to be struggling with an addiction more than with the will to do bad things. Then, as he was studying for his Master of Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, he heard about problem-solving courts. He liked the idea so much that he brought it up to Dennis Cowig, then the head of the probation department at the county, and within about a year, they had the program up and running.
The drug court meets every two weeks. Before that meeting, the entire team meets and goes over every participant’s status. Those who have excelled get rewards and those who have stumbled can face sanctions. But each is given the support needed at that time to keep moving forward.
A new way to serve
First Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Kerye Ashmore has been a part of the program since its inception and said the court can tout far more successes than it can recount failures. Ashmore said he is proud of the fact that the program helps people address the issues in their lives that might make it hard for them to serve out a regular probation. Those who don’t have a home and are living out of their car find it harder to comply with probation than others, so the drug court helps them find a job or housing.
Larry Phillips, who will take Nall’s seat on the bench on May 1, said the drug court is one of the things that made him want to sit in that court.
He said he talked with probation officers and others in the system and heard about the great work being done by the court and, he said, Nall has agreed to continue to help out with the court.
“He is a national leader on drug courts and our local court has a great group of professionals volunteers making our court a success,” Phillips said.
Nall said no everyone makes it through drug court probation, “but the ones that don’t — It’s sad, but I don’t feel as bad because they have been given every opportunity that the state can give them. There’s nothing else that the state or I can do for them. You feel like you have done your best.”
But those who do make it through the program and are able to maintain their sobriety make him proud and thankful for all of the hard work that everyone puts into the program.
“As a judge,” he said, “you don’t get the opportunity to help people very often. You make a decision and people walk out of the room and you don’t know what happened. But in these cases you get to see. … We keep up with them. That’s probably the most exciting thing.
“You may have someone who starts the program weighing 100 pounds and looking like death — been using meth since they were 15 years old. Then you see them six months or eight months later and they have gone to treatment and you almost don’t even recognize them.”
One of the things that is easy to recognize, Ashmore said, is the value of the drug court program. He said “it has been well worth the time and resources (that have been allocated to it) and it has made a huge difference.”
A success story
Grayson County’s Community Supervision and Corrections Department Director Alan Brown said 274 people have been accepted into the Drug Court program and 234 have successfully completed it.
“The buzzwords are that we take the worst of the worst and that’s absolutely true,” Brown said. “Most of the offenders (who are considered for Drug Court) have had other opportunities and all of a sudden, they get in to the drug court and for whatever kind of a light that turns on comes on after they have been there for a while,” he continued.
One of those people who saw the light is Tony Pellman, 51, of Denison.
Pellman started the program in 2005 and had to start it for a second time. At that time, he said, he was homeless and facing three felonies and a long prison sentence.
“I had burned every bridge with my family at that point,” Pellman said.
He said he began using drugs at an early age and when asked about what drug drove his addiction, he said, “everything,” adding it was methamphetamine and alcohol that nearly killed him before found the drug court program.
And though it turned out to be a good thing for him, Pellman said, he wasn’t anxious to participate at first.
He said his wife had recently killed herself and he was in a place where he just couldn’t see himself ever being able to stop using drugs. But then, he admits, he hadn’t ever really tried before. And, he didn’t really trust those who were offering him help at the drug court.
“I didn’t have any respect for any of them. I thought they were out to get me,” he said. And, that attitude left to his struggling with the program.
“I slipped again and they didn’t give up on me,” he said.
At that point, he said, he started applying himself to the program and things got better from there.
“When I was able to help others,” he said, was when he knew he had turned a corner.
Pellman praised those who worked with him in the drug court, including Nall.
“He’s top notch,” Pellman said. “He obviously cares about what he does. He cares about helping people.”
Pellman said now his life is a complete turnaround from what it was.
“I will be married six years (soon), and I (have) seven grandchildren. I have a really great job, and I am trustworthy,” he said with his voice sounding tight as he uttered that last word.
When asked what it feels like at this point to be able to say that about himself, Pellman said, “It is kind of unbelievable for a guy like me to be trustworthy whether its honesty with my wife or trusting me with someone’s money or the key to the plant where I work. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for the person that I am.”
“I will be forever grateful,” he said.