- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday lost his court bid to block a ballot initiative that mandates treatment for nonviolent drug offenders instead of prosecuting them.

But the D.C. Superior Court's rejection of his attempt to halt the certification of the ballot initiative does not ensure the measure's implementation. The District, whose fiscal 2003 budget has not yet been approved, doesn't have the money to pay for it.

Superior Court Judge Jeannette J. Clark yesterday denied the D.C. Corporation Counsel's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on the vote certification for Measure 62 "Treatment Instead of Jail for Certain Non-Violent Drug Offenders Initiative of 2002."

The order would have barred the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics from certifying on Wednesday the results of last week's vote. Voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative, 81,917 for to 23,158 against.

Attorney Opio L. Sokoni, a leader of the group that sponsored the initiative, called the court ruling a "victory" for city voters.

"We view this as the court saying the voters have the right to be heard and that nonviolent, low-level offenders need not be jailed," said Mr. Sokoni, campaign coordinator for the D.C. Campaign for Treatment. "It is time for the mayor to drop his suit, uphold the voters' will and work with us to ensure that low-level drug offenders in the District receive treatment."

City attorneys argued that the initiative would force the city government to allocate additional funds in the budget, a violation of the District's Home Rule Charter. They said the measure was not a proper subject for an initiative because it would limit the mayor's and D.C. Council's discretion over the budget.

"We went in expecting a status hearing, but [Judge Clark] decided to go ahead and have a hearing on the [restraining order]," said Peter Lavalle, spokesman for the Corporation Counsel. "We will move forward to argue the underlying merits of our case in January."

Judge Clark scheduled a Jan. 10 hearing on the matter, said court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz.

Mr. Sokoni said the initiative would use private, not public, funding for its drug treatment requirements.

Elections board Director Benjamin F. Wilson said yesterday on WTOP Radio's "The Political Hour" that the Corporation Counsel erred in the case, saying "they should have presented their concerns when this measure went before the board."

Mr. Williams said at his weekly press briefing Wednesday he still opposes the measure. "I'm elected to represent the long-term, best interests for our city, and I think there are several legal deficiencies involved with this measure," he said.

The Washington Times reported Oct. 30 that the mayor, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the city Health Department opposed the measure.

The initiative calls for the city to prescribe 12 months of mandatory treatment for first- and second-time drug offenders charged with possession with intent to use, not distribute.

The Health Department also would be required to set up an ombudsman's office to advise offenders of their treatment options and act as a mediator for offenders in court, if the treatment is found to be insufficient or if the offender is kicked out of the program.

Wendy Salaam, chief of public policy for the department's Addiction Prevention Recovery Administration, said such an initiative would be "irresponsible" without the provision of government funds and could jeopardize new or existing programs.

California, which passed a similar initiative in 2000, appropriated $18 million to increase the number of beds needed to handle the influx of addicts seeking treatment.

Mr. Williams said "not funding the measure is a discreet way to do what I'm doing overtly by going to the courts."

The program does not include offenders caught using Schedule I drugs such as marijuana and heroin. Only offenders in possession of narcotics on Schedules II through V including cocaine and PCP are eligible for the special consideration.

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