Recently, at the 2016 Council of Accountability Court Judge’s (CACJ) State Conference, the CAJC presented the Hon. H. Gregory Fowler, Chief Judge, State Court of Chatham County, with the CACJ’s first annual STAR Award in the category of “Judge.”
After seeing some of the same defendants in front of him for DUI charges repeatedly, in 2002, Judge Fowler agreed to participate in a pilot program, funded by a three year grant from NHTSA, in an effort to reduce DUI recidivism. Modeled after Drug Courts, the Chatham County DUI Court was established and held its first session in May 2003.
With limited resources, Judge Fowler led the DUI Court team through countless hours of training, ensuring that evidence based practices were used in ever decision possible. With knowledge that grant funds would not be available forever, Judge Fowler set out to ensure the sustainability of his DUI Court.
In 2005, Judge Fowler teamed with Chatham County Drug Court’s Judge James Bass to bring then NADCP Director West Huddleston to Chatham County to speak to local courts and elected officials about the benefits of Accountability Courts. Judge Fowler then convinced Chatham County Board of Commissioners to approve “an excise tax of 3% on distilled spirits sold by the drink” in the unincorporated areas of Chatham County to provide funding for DUI Court. The Chatham County DUI Court has been a funded department in the County’s budget since.
Judge Fowler has served on many committees to establish best practices and policy for the State’s DUI Courts. He has hosted numerous judges to his DUI Court so they could witness firsthand how Accountability Courts change and save lives.
Since inception, the Chatham County DUI Court has graduated over 1,180 participants. Each graduate has a new outlook on his or her substance abuse issues and a newfound attitude towards the judicial system. The recovery community recognizes Judge Fowler for his compassion and fairness. He refuses to allow participants to give up on their sobriety. Judge Fowler understood, even before DUI Court existed, that jail alone would not help the addict become sober and that the addict need not hit “rock bottom” to succeed.
Judge Fowler’s passion for helping others that are struggling with abuse and addiction is unwavering. He has put in the time, effort, and commitment necessary to operate a successful accountability court.