By Alyssa Schnugg
Sitting on the bench as a Circuit Court Judge for the Third District, Judge Andrew Howorth saw a commonality with many of those who stood before him, charged with crimes of theft and possession of illegal drugs – they were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
Knowing that many of these people didn’t necessarily belong behind bars, he hoped to create a Drug Court that would serve these individuals in ways a jail cell could not.
“I knew we needed a Drug Court but I just didn’t have the time,” Howorth said recently. “Then we added a third judge and I knew then that I finally had the time to volunteer to start and run a Drug Court.”
The Third Circuit Drug Court officially started in 2008. Howorth receives no extra pay for running the program and does so voluntarily.
For his service to the community, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
“I’m glad the community is understanding the importance of Drug Court and what it’s done as far as changing lives,” Howorth told Hottytoddy.com Thursday.
The Chamber selects the annual recipient from nomination letters.
Brandon Vance, the Third Circuit Drug Court coordinator, was one of three people who nominated Howorth. In his nomination letter, Vance said Howorth is not only a fair judge but one who cares deeply for people.
“He volunteers his time (for Drug Court) regularly and is dedicated to helping his fellow citizens in need of guidance,” Vance wrote. “He has helped more people than he will ever know. He certainly leaves where he has been better than when he came.”
The Third District Drug Court is a three-year program that allows offenders to remain out of jail while working toward sobriety. If the person completes the program successfully, he or she could have their charges dropped or reduced. The program includes regular therapy, attending AA meetings, submitting to weekly drug tests, maintaining employment and other requirements.
David Lewis Jr., a probation and parole agent with the Drug Court, said he felt a genuine connection with Howorth when he first met him four years ago.
“There’s not a lot of men that you meet in life that truly encompasses what it means to be a man,” Lewis wrote. “He has taught me how to properly show respect, honor, integrity, compassion and fairness to even the most tenebrous facets of society.”
Gail Fondren also nominated Howorth. She has known him for 50 years and has worked with him at the Circuit Court for eight.
“As a Drug Court Judge, he has been a leader in this community to help those individuals who have addiction issues as well informing the community about addiction,” she wrote.
Howorth said he had no idea he was going to receive the award Wednesday at the Chamber’s annual awards luncheon. He was told his friend, John Currence, was the one receiving the award.
“I heard someone mention Drug Court and then I realized they were talking about me,” he said Thursday. “I was stunned.”
Howorth was appointed as Circuit Court Judge in 2002 after Judge Kenneth Coleman stepped down from the bench. He ran and was elected to retain his seat at the bench in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and is running unopposed this year.
Other than his work with Drug Court, Howorth has volunteered his time working for various organization. He served in several regional and local Bar positions and as a Commissioner of the Mississippi Bar from 1992-1994. He served as president of the Oxford-Lafayette County United Way. He was a Commissioner of the Oxford Housing Authority, a director of the Oxford University Bank and a Paul Harris Fellow of the Oxford Rotary Club.
As a circuit judge, Judge Howorth has served as the president of the Conference of Circuit Judges, on the Board of Governors of the Mississippi Judicial College, as Presiding Judge of the Bar’s Complaints Tribunal and as a member of the Drug Court Advisory Committee.
He was recently selected by his peers for membership as a Fellow in the highly prestigious Mississippi Bar Foundation.