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Judge to retire to help others start DWI programs

By Melissa Crowe
Feb. 20, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 20, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.

Victoria County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Laura Weiser said goodbye Wednesday to the DWI Court, which she founded five years ago. Weiser retires Feb. 28.

How It Works

• Holds people charged with repeat substance abuse or drunken driving charges more accountable for their actions.

• Offenders check in with the court, the police department, the district attorney's office and their probation officer every two weeks.

• Offenders are also monitored for 180 days with an ankle bracelet that record the alcohol content of the moisture coming off the wearer's skin and a device that requires a person to blow into a breathalyzer to ensure they don't get behind a wheel drunk.

• Offenders must still complete two years of probation and have their license suspended for two years, but do not face additional jail time.

The message was more than the raised lettering on the golden coins could declare: "Where Justice and Treatment Meet."

The coins are keepsakes participants in the Victoria County DWI Court, an intense program that holistically addresses underlying causes of alcohol dependency, earn for reaching milestones.

County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Laura Weiser grinned as she handed the coin to a college student who reached Phase 2.

Coins mark milestones in the program: one for completing counseling at Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach, another for completing the repeat offender program at Mid-Coast Family Services, the third for joining Alcoholics Anonymous.

"They keep these as a reminder of the progress they've made," Weiser said as she presided over her final session Wednesday. She is retiring from Victoria County to join a nonprofit in Austin at the end of the month. Part of her job will be training Texas judges to start similar programs.

She formed the program five years ago in Victoria County with the help of Constance Filley Johnson, an area defense attorney, and Terre Davidson, program coordinator for the 24th Judicial District Community Supervision and Corrections Department.

Her only keepsakes are positive impacts and the success stories from people who, after repeat drunken driving violations, aim to turn their lives around.

In five years, 43 people have successfully completed the program while seven have unsuccessfully terminated. The current class includes people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds - college students, businessmen and medical workers.

"This was my baby. I'm very proud of it and protective of it," Weiser said. "It really is a program that can change their lives."

The program looks at their whole lives not just the probation requirements.

"If they have employment problems, we want to help them. If they have family problems, we'll refer them to family counseling," Weiser said.

The program will continue after she leaves. The next graduation is March 20.

Robert Puckett, 53, of Victoria, has been in the program about seven months.

He's at Phase 2 and has about four months to go.

He said he will never forget the first time he met Weiser.

"I told her, 'I won't let you down,'" Puckett said. "She said, 'Robert, don't let yourself down.'"

The program has been an emotional learning experience, he said.

"She's very personal. She doesn't have to do this," Puckett said. "They put a lot of effort in to trying to help people who want to be helped."

For the first time since he was 12 years old, Puckett said he is living sober.

"It's either you do good and you handle the program, or you go to jail," Puckett said.

With the support of others in the program, Weiser and the other volunteers, he said he has been able to make the most of it.

"One of the biggest deals is learning to say no," Puckett said. "Once you say it the first, second and third time, it gets easier."

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