A different kind of justice | February 23, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 23, 2007

A different kind of justice

In mental-health court, Judge Stephen Manley helps offenders get back on their feet

by Molly Tanenbaum

Not every courtroom has a judge who hugs you before he sets you free. In Santa Clara County's Department 64, where those who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs are given another chance at life, justice is anything but impersonal.

Presiding over the wood-paneled courtroom in San Jose is Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley, a 40-year Palo Alto resident who founded the county's first mental-health court, which has become one of the largest in the country.

There, he sees about 1,200 defendants a year and works with a team of psychiatrists, case workers and probation officers to rehabilitate and reintegrate past offenders back into their communities. His ultimate goals: to change lives for good -- and prevent prison overcrowding.

Sometimes, Manley's court feels like a support-group meeting. Everyone gets a round of applause, a song on their birthday and a hug from the judge when they graduate.

"They've been on the streets; they've been homeless. Who sings 'Happy Birthday' to a homeless person? No one," he said.

For many defendants who come from extremely troubled and traumatic backgrounds, Manley's court provides more than a much-needed transition from jail to freedom. It is the first place where someone believed they could succeed.

He holds a graduation ceremony this month for those who are ready to move on from the program.

"Many of these defendants have never completed anything in their lives," he said.

In the mental-health court model, "the judge takes personal responsibility for sharing in the outcomes," Manley explained. "You encourage them, try to urge them, coerce them to believe in themselves."

Through "an incredible amount of coordination," case workers, probation officers, therapists and attorneys come together through the court to help the defendant access mental-health services, drug-rehabilitation treatment, housing and life-skills training, Manley said.

"Judge Manley has recreated the court as a medium that supports positive transformation," said Gary Giarretto, a deputy probation officer who has worked with mental-health cases in Manley's courtroom for six years.

Taped to the door of his courtroom, a sign reads, "One day at a time," which is one of Manley's mantras.

The defendants range from minor to violent offenders who have served jail sentences already. Most are homeless and unemployed, and many suffer from schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses.

"This is a population that nobody would want anything to do with. It would be easy to write them off," said Dana Overstreet, supervising deputy district attorney, who has worked with the judge for nine years and oversees cases with violent, mentally ill offenders.

"There would be no places to put these people if it weren't for Judge Manley."

Manley, a Stanford graduate and San Diego native, lives in south Palo Alto with his wife, Margo. The two are raising their two young granddaughters while their son is serving in the military overseas.

On the bench, the judge comes across as an enthusiastic, compassionate father figure for the defendants.

He believes the courtroom should be the epicenter of those services, coordinating individualized aid and being a cheerleader for the defendants.

Outside the courtroom, he is a passionate and driven advocate for improved mental-health services, increased funding, and creative and cost-effective ways to keep the prison population down.

"Punishment has its place, but we have to move beyond that because we're running out of space," he said.

Last year's 278 graduates saved the state and county $20 million between reduced prison and jail sentences, according to 2006 Santa Clara County Mental Health Court data.

Colleagues say Manley works tirelessly behind the scenes, lobbying at the national, state and county levels to secure grant money to assist those with mental illness and drug addictions.

"He is up in Sacramento all the time. He is just incredible at getting grants and federal funding," Overstreet said.

Currently, he is tackling the divide in state funding for those who suffer both mental illness and drug addiction. Proposition 36 allows nonviolent drug offenders to receive substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time, and Proposition 63 supports mental-health services. Manley hopes to be able to get funding redirected for those with "co-occurring disorders."

Manley strives for an integration of services, so a person released from jail doesn't immediately commit another crime and wind up back behind bars.

"We don't protect the public by warehousing people and dumping back in the community expecting they've changed," he said.

A graduate of Manley's court, 53-year-old Mary Oaks credits Judge Manley with the huge turnaround in her life.

"I'd been doing drugs for 30 years. I thought I'd keep doing them until I died," she said. After nine months in Manley's court, she graduated in February. In her backpack, she proudly carries her graduation certificate and a Polaroid of herself with the judge.

And even though she no longer has to make monthly appearances in Department 64, Oaks still plans to attend regularly to hear Manley's motivational messages.

"I'm going to go back to that courtroom all the time. I just like listening," she said. "I always sat there and heard every word he says, and it all makes sense."

Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at mtanenbaum@paweekly.com.


3 people like this
Posted by Sandra
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2008 at 1:35 am

I am in desperate need to get in touch with Judge Stephen Manley, on anyone that can assist me legally. My son has been treated unfairly, he is now in jail without getting a proper hearing.

Sandra Aldana

2 people like this
Posted by M Ghizzoni
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2009 at 12:18 am

I too need to know how to contact Judge Manley. I have a son being charged with felonies in Santa Clara Co. for an incident that occurred on a 5150 transfer from Santa Rita to Santa Clara to receive further mental health treatment. He now is caught up in the criminal system without his mental health issues being addressed.

thank you,

1 person likes this
Posted by Disillusioned
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm

All this raving about Judge Manley and his courtroom was not the case with us. My son got the book thrown at him for stealing an energy drink worth $2.99. I am appalled by our **Justice** System!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Mulcrone
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

I am very familar with the efforts The Honorable Judge Manely puts into his efforts. One of those places that greatly assists in keeping his people out of trouble is in trouble finacialy do to financial cut backs accross the board. It is Grace cummunity center in San jose california. Web Link is a link to it as well as Web Link to donate to our efforts in not only keeping the mentally ill out of trouble but even helping them to be happy.... GOD BLESS YOU

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Posted by Burt Musson
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2012 at 1:32 am

I would like to tell the people that Judge Manley does not send people to jail that shouldn't be there.I have sat in his court room
in and out of custody and have heard a lot of cases that he dealt with fairly. He has put me in jail a number of times and he did it
because I deserved it. In the end I made it through his program and
have stayed away from the things that got me there. He is a tough Judge but you have to be a real knuckle head before he gets tough.
I have been before some serious judges and I had a choice I would
pick him because I know how fair he is. If you are doing the right thing he is sure to be on your side and if you are not, he will give
you another chance to get right but don't challenge him or give cheap excuses for not doing what he wants you to do.

Like this comment
Posted by jackie
a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I need to contact Judge Manley. I'm living in El Dorado County. My son has dual diagnosis and has a 3rd dui. He has been denied both for Behavior Health court or DUI court. They feel that he won't be successful. I thought that these specialized courts were an alternative to being incarcerated. I feel that they are being selective in who they allow in either courts. My son is on injectable meds,stopped drinking alcohol and has kaiser coverage.
He could get a court order for treatment but they want to send him to jail. We have been going to this Kangaroo court for 15 months.

Please help me! I met you when I was on the santa Clara mental health board. I loved your compassion and insight into those with a mental illness.
Sincerely, Jackie

Like this comment
Posted by john
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Judge Stephen Manly at the Terraine courthouse in San Jose California is forcing medication on inmates, setting up mentally ill inmates for failure by expecting them to complete programs and classes etc. on their own and when they fail to do so he issues bench warrants for their arrest and keeps them stuck in the system, and does not provide the proper evaluation of inmates for mental health.
He is keeping mentally ill people in jail and trapped within the system for much longer than the crime they committed calls for, up to 3 years in some cases for minor drug charges. He ignores evaluations done by professional psychiatrists outside of his program, he ignores the letters and grievances of the family's and lawyers of the mentally ill and tries to force the same plan of action on every person instead of evaluating each individual case, he is punishing people for being ill not for the crime.
He knows that the expectations he is putting on mentally ill inmates cannot be followed through by certain individuals yet he continues to recommend treatment plans that will just put the person back into jail.
The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791[1]) prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to the states.

there is also a competence law
see below

In American law, competence concerns the mental capacity of an individual to participate in legal proceedings. Defendants that do not possess sufficient "competence" are usually excluded from criminal prosecution,
In United States law, this protection has been ruled by the United States Supreme Court to be guaranteed under the due process clause. If the court determines that a defendant's mental condition makes him unable to understand the proceedings, or that he is unable to help in his defense, he is found incompetent. The competency evaluation, as determined in Dusky v. United States, is whether the accused "has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding—and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Being determined incompetent is substantially different from undertaking an insanity defense; competence regards the defendant's state of mind at the time of the trial, while insanity regards his state of mind at the time of the crime. It has also been referred to as a "730 exam".
The word incompetent is also used to describe persons who lack mental capacity to make contracts, handle their financial and other personal matters such as consenting to medical treatment, etc. and need a legal guardian to handle their affairs.

also please read this below

In Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962), the Court decided that a California law authorizing a 90-day jail sentence for "be[ing] addicted to the use of narcotics" violated the Eighth Amendment, as narcotics addiction "is apparently an illness," and California was attempting to punish people based on the state of this illness, rather than for any specific act. The Court wrote:
"To be sure, imprisonment for ninety days is not, in the abstract, a punishment which is either cruel or unusual. But the question cannot be considered in the abstract. Even one day in prison would be a cruel and unusual punishment for the 'crime' of having a common cold."

Traditionally, the length of a prison sentence was not subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, regardless of the crime for which the sentence was imposed. It was not until the case of Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277 (1983), that the Supreme Court held that incarceration, standing alone, could constitute cruel and unusual punishment if it were "disproportionate" in duration to the offense. The Court outlined three factors that were to be considered in determining if the sentence is excessive: "(i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the sentences imposed for commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions.

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Posted by Bruce Smith
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 30, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I ask this with the greatest respect for Judge Manley as there is, as I work as a drug counselor for the V.A. in Menlo Park, and our paths cross from time to time. Many of us at work would like to know the reason for the eye patch, I'd ask him in person if I had the chance, just never seem to get him alone. Thx~

1 person likes this
Posted by Liz
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 5, 2015 at 8:31 am

I want to know HOW we can get JUDGE MANLEY OUT! He is awful, cruel, has no insight. It's a circus in the court room with a young often inexperienced Public Defender and two other woman running around literally talking to the people in custody for 1 minute and then recommend to the Judge what needs to be done. Often times the Judge pulls out the wrong folder for the person and starts reading it aloud. HE'S OLD SCHOOL, HE'S A TERRIBLE JUDGE, HE INCARCERATES PEOPLES WITH A SMILE, IT's SICK!!!!!!!!
Oh - and everyone seems to be on ZYPREXA - AND HE is the Speaker at their Drug Seminars is this a conflict of interest?

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Letterman Circuit
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2017 at 11:20 pm

I would like to know how it is fair for a judge to not send a person to treatment if it is obvious that a person needs continued treatment. My son was one of the fortunate who was on Judge Manley's court room. Unfortunately he was forced to be exited out by another judge do to my son recommitting, sadly again because he was spiraling downhill on his drug of choice. While my son was there I saw him actually able to succeed. Unfortunately he failed many times bringing him back to where he is now but his failures are with a different mindset. For the first time in a long time I see that he actually wants a better life. I'm not sure what will happen now without the support from Judge Manley.