Former Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores has been recruited by the American Bar Association as one of 10 sitting and former judges chosen for the Judicial Fellow and Judicial Outreach Liaison Program, a nationwide endeavor to educate fellow judicial officers on new methods of preventing impaired driving.
On the bench in various capacities from 1987 to 2018, when he retired as a superior court judge, Judge Flores’ biggest order of business as a judicial liaison is helping other local courts do what he did late in his judicial career. That is, starting a high-risk DUI treatment court like the one he helped start locally in 2018.
Speaking to the News-Press, the judge said that in traditional DUI cases where there’s no property damage, injury, or loss of life, a defendant is placed in court probation with very minimal supervision. There is, however, a sizable number of “high-risk” people arrested in DUI cases who require more supervision and treatments.
These people, he said, are often alcoholics, many of them also struggling with other co-occurring issues like mental illness or drug use.
Seeing a need to steer non-violent DUI offenders away from prison, which he believes should be reserved for violent individuals who are truly a danger to society, Judge Flores helped start the Santa Barbara Superior Court’s high-risk DUI treatment court. When defendants are found guilty of a DUI, this court puts them through a program more rigorous than the regular education program one would normally undergo.
Whereas the ordinary education program doesn’t include treatments for substance abuse, the high-risk DUI court’s program does. It’s treatment pathways include Alcoholics Anonymous, rehab, and mental health treatment.
“We have a lot of tools in our arsenal and we would use every single one of them,” he recalled of the program.
The judge remarked that without such a program providing these resources, most high-risk DUI offenders would commit the same offense again. Starting the court that he’s now working to help other localities establish came out of his personal judicial philosophy.
This philosophy is, “Let’s fix the problem. Let’s not make the justice system the revolving door it’s been for so long.”
Lately, Judge Flores has been caught in what he called “Zoom meeting land,” getting introduced to stakeholders in the localities that he is going to assist with setting up a high-risk DUI court.
When he helps judicial officers in other parts of California develop best practices for their DUI courts, Judge Flores will not simply copy the work that he did for the Santa Barbara Superior Court because what worked best in Santa Barbara County might not be what’s best for another county.
“I would never presume that one size fits all and that what works in one court will work in another court,” he said.
Considering that some of the jurisdictions he’s collaborating with are currently dealing with deadly wildfires on top of handling COVID-19, so Judge Flores called the project he’s working on with them “small potatoes.”
“I pray that these days will get better for all of us and when it does, we can hit the ground running,” he said.