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Drug court celebrates 20 years at graduation ceremony

Drug court graduates speak during 20th annual ceremony

Candi Kloss and Erin Holmes speak at the 20th Annual 12th Judicial Circuit Court Drug Court Graduation Ceremony on May 11.
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Candi Kloss and Erin Holmes speak at the 20th Annual 12th Judicial Circuit Court Drug Court Graduation Ceremony on May 11.

Retirement was no excuse to miss graduation for Senior Judge Andrew “Andy” Owens Jr.

You can see his influence in the squeezed hugs from people he’s worked with and those he has virtually saved from a certain death. Since he helped start the drug court diversion program in 1997, hundreds upon hundreds have successfully graduated from the program and have gone on to live fuller lives above the influence of drugs and alcohol.

“No one put more time and effort ... through the years than Judge Owens,” said court administrator Walt Smith.

Thursday morning, Bradenton residents Erin Holmes and Candi Kloss were two more graduates added to the growing list of more than 2,200 and were honored at the 20th Annual 12th Judicial Circuit Court Drug Court Graduation ceremony at the Manatee County Judicial Center. More than 80 people ranging from family to rehabilitation staff attended the ceremony.

“I can walk with integrity today, and it’s all because of what I’ve learned and what my counselors taught me in helping me overcome my trauma,” Kloss said.

Sean Dunham, a Marine Corps combat veteran who fought in Desert Storm and a program graduate, also spoke at the ceremony.

He said the things he did overseas were unspeakable, and his drug of choice to get away from it all was crack cocaine. That addiction would land him in prison three times.

“There is education in there,” Dunham said. “They teach you how to be a better criminal.”

Drug court was a divine intervention, he said. Now, he’s been clean for three years, he’s married and has a successful business.

The ceremony showcased videos of eight graduates explaining how drug court gave them the tools to change their lives, doled out awards to several judges and touted the success of its new Veterans Court Program with 13 graduates so far.

Although Owens announced that he was stepping down from his position in March, he’s not going anywhere just yet; he is just scaling back his involvement in the 12th judicial circuit to be involved solely in the drug and veterans court programs. The other days, he said he’ll enjoy his retirement.

He thinks he’ll continue his judgeship for a few more years, until his wife decides to retire as a school teacher.

“Everybody has different gifts and I just think that’s my opportunity to give back to the community, to work with individuals,” Owens said.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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