Honoring Treatment Court Pioneer Judge Robert Russell
At the end of this month, Judge Robert Russell will retire from the bench. That he will step down at the conclusion of National Drug Court Month is a fitting end to a career marked by unparalleled service and innovation in the field. Judge Russell’s unwavering belief in people’s ability to recover from mental health and substance use disorders and his responsiveness to the needs of our military veterans helped pave the way for a new era of compassionate jurisprudence in the American legal system.
Judge Russell was elected to the bench in Buffalo, New York in 1991 and was an early pioneer of treatment courts. He established the Buffalo drug treatment court in 1995 and mental health treatment court in 2002. In 2008, Judge Russell founded the nation’s first veterans treatment court (click here to read the full story), igniting a movement that would spread at an unprecedented rate, growing to more than 400 programs across the country today.
Judge Russell’s leadership, empathy, wisdom, and dedication to service make him an invaluable member of the NADCP family. He was elected to our board of directors in 1998, served as board chair from 2002 to 2004, and continues to serve as an emeritus member today. He has long served as faculty for both NADCP and Justice For Vets, traveling coast to coast to provide jurisdictions with training and technical assistance to implement and improve their treatment court programs. In 2004, Judge Russell was inducted into NADCP’s Stanley Goldstein Treatment Court Hall of Fame, and he was the first inductee to Justice For Vets’ Veterans Treatment Court Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Judge Russell has dedicated his life to advancing justice for people with mental health and substance use disorders in the legal system, especially our military veterans,” said NADCP Board Chair Judge Bruce Williams. “He has made an indelible impact on NADCP, Justice For Vets, the treatment court movement, and the court system as a whole. Most importantly, he’s saved lives and families. Judge Russell’s efforts during his career will continue to make a difference in communities across this country for years to come.”
In addition to his work with NADCP, Judge Russell is the past president of the New York Association of Treatment Court Professionals and served on the National Advisory Board of the Judges’ Criminal Justice/Mental Health Leadership Initiative at the Bureau of Justice Assistance. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including:
- White House Advocate for Action Award presented by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for “astounding efforts and groundbreaking thinking” in efforts to return justice-involved individuals to the community
- Franklin N. Flaschner Award from the American Bar Association for “commitment to high ideals, exemplary character, leadership, and competence in performing judicial duties”
- Nancy D. Smith Memorial Award from the National Alliance for Mental Illness
“Judge Russell is an icon in the treatment court field,” said NADCP CEO Carson Fox. “Without him, we might not have veterans treatment courts. His career has been marked by quiet, kind, and thoughtful leadership, all the while paving the way for monumental improvements in the way the justice system deals with persons who have substance use and mental health disorders. Although he’s leaving the bench, all of us will continue to benefit from his guidance as an emeritus member of the NADCP Board of Directors.”
As Judge Russell hangs up his robe, we celebrate a judicial career that positively impacted countless lives not just in New York, but nationwide. We encourage you to join us in honoring Judge Russell’s service by leaving a note of congratulations or sharing a favorite memory of him our Facebook page.