Judge Dread: Michael Kwan | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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March 24, 2010 News » Cover Story

Judge Dread: Michael Kwan 

If you're getting high while enrolled in Taylorsville drug court, Michael Kwan may make your life hell. Or not.

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Blood Debts
As part of her plea-in-abeyance at Taylorsville Drug Court on Jan. 22, 2008, Deuel learned she would undergo addiction counseling, attend a 12-step program twice a week and submit to two drug tests a week, one of them random. “This isn’t that hard,” she thought. “I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic.”

The JSS-supervised tests and classes quickly added up. In a month, the 19-year-old could end up owing $100 for classes and paying a similar amount for drug and alcohol tests. In March, she sold her Ford Escort for $200 to pay for drug tests. She was frustrated by the group addiction classes, which included watching movies like the drug-addiction epic Requiem for a Dream and The Simpsons, and afterwards discussing their relevance to not doing drugs. “It was very pointless,” Deuel says.

During counseling, several men revealed they had been involved in domestic violence. Deuel told the counselor about her boyfriend’s assault but was not moved to another group. Jackson says that “there’s no perfect, ideal bubble to put these clients in.” Classmates also introduced her to hallucinogens, including LSD and ecstasy, which they said were untraceable. Deuel tried them both.

Jackson says Deuel “was minimally compliant.” Nevertheless, she went to peer review, did her tests and counseling. But one night in July 2008, she says three men in a car abducted and raped her. She did not report the rape to the police because she had been walking to her boyfriend’s house. Since it was his assault that landed her in Taylorsville Drug Court in the first place, she anticipated little sympathy.

Deuel says she also didn’t report the gang rape to Jackson “because any kind of complaint or show of weakness is seen as a sign of relapse.” For several months, she didn’t go to peer review. Then, on Nov. 11, one year and a day after her boyfriend beat her, Deuel came up dirty on a random drug test after smoking pot the previous night. In tears, she stood before Kwan, unwilling to mention the rape before the peerpacked court. Kwan sentenced Deuel to two days’ jail time suspended, 10 hours of community service, and returned her to an intensive level of substance testing he had recently promoted her from. She had no money to pay for the JSS tests, she told him.

“Have you tried selling your plasma?” Kwan asked. Deuel thought angrily that she might as well be a prostitute. “He was asking me to sell part of my body to pay for court.” Nevertheless, for five months, she earned $60 a week from twice-weekly visits to a plasma bank to pay for JSS tests. She only stopped when one afternoon, after watching plasma leak out of her arm into a container, she had a seizure that resulted in her hospitalization.

Sentencing people is about being a teacher, Kwan says. “Education changes behavior. Incarceration doesn’t.” He wants his defendants to take their bills seriously, to think before “they buy that second pack of cigarettes or an Xbox 360.” Along with selling plasma, Kwan has also, he says, made “the illuminating point” to traffic violators that they might sign organ donor cards so society can benefit if they were to die from a speeding-related incident.

Lohra Miller says Kwan’s approach “stems from his belief defendants need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions. He’s legitimately trying to get them to change their lives.”

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That approach also includes “Kwan dollars,” a derogative term used by police officers and jail officials for astronomical bench warrants Kwan has issued to get misdemeanor defendants locked up who have failed to appear on multiple occasions before him.

Kwan acknowledges putting out warrants for $250,000 on someone who has failed to appear 10 times on a misdemeanor. Kwan says the defendant is not expected to pay the bond on such a large warrant. “I just want them to come to court,” he says.

Miller recalls that officers not familiar with high warrants on minor offenses “originally took great action to ensure those people were booked in jail, but [after a while] they didn’t see those warrants as being so important.”

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