DUI Court graduates first participants

LAWRENCEVILLE - Alcoholics Anonymous teaches the principle of honesty in its first step, which states "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

And admissions of powerlessness and unmanageability were required of three men and two women who were honored Thursday night as the first five graduates of Gwinnett County's DUI Court program.

"The sky's the limit," said Atlanta Falcons running back Butchie Wallace, who was the program's keynote speaker.

Wallace, who admitted to dealing with addictions of his own, told his story of overcoming obstacles in his life, urging graduates to seize their second chances.

"Congratulations. I know what you've been through, (and) I know what you go through," he said.

The DUI Court, which began in September 2005, is a partnership among judges, the Solicitor General's Office, probation, law enforcement, the DUI Court Office, the treatment provider, and the defense bar, said Priscilla Woolwine, Drug/DUI Court coordinator.

Unlike Drug Court, graduates of the DUI program do not have criminal charges dropped, but fines are decreased, in some cases significantly.

During their time in the program, participants are subject to home visits, random drug tests, mandatory appearances in court and other requirements.

The program, which focuses on recovery, lasts a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 24 and all participants are multiple offenders, she said.

As of Thursday there were 77 active participants.

"It's been incredibly rewarding to get to know people on a personal basis who I would otherwise sentence and send on for supervision by someone else," said State Court Judge Joseph Iannazzone, who has spearheaded the program since its inception.

Iannazzone, who presented certificates and other items to the graduates, later said he sympathizes with those who suffer from alcoholism in a society where alcohol is so popular.

Gwinnett County Solicitor General Rosanna Szabo praised the graduates for their hard work.

"I think sobriety is a valiant effort," she said. "I admire you and respect you for what you have achieved."

State Court Judge Carla Brown, who has taken over a second division of DUI Court, echoed the sentiments of Iannazzone and the solicitor general.

"It's a phenomenal program, which we do believe in heart and soul," she said.

The graduates, who did not wish to speak to the media, were recognized only by their first names and last initials.

Thamar B., the program's first participant, was the first recognized graduate, followed by Dwight F., Robyn S., Federico G., and Sonny W.

Sonny had a heart attack earlier in the week, but he was able to make it to graduation.

The next graduating class should complete the program in the coming months.