By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 8, 2011
DeKalb County Senior Judge Robert Castellani for years faced a courtroom with what seemed to him to be a revolving door of drug-addicted defendants committing crime after crime.
Defendants faced probation and jail but kept coming back in front of him, he said. The work was “unrealistic and ineffective,” said Castellani, who served on the bench from 1984 to 2010.
“Addiction is the driving force” in nearly all criminal justice proceedings, he said.
Starting in 2002, he helped organize the DeKalb Drug Court program with an emphasis on breaking addiction and getting people to contribute to their community through work, treatment programs, and court appearances.
For his work, Castellani was recognized by the St. Thomas More Society in Atlanta for his efforts to “restore and uplift the individual in measuring out justice in society.”
The St. Thomas More Society is an organization of Catholic lawyers with a chapter in the archdiocese.
It organizes the annual Red Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica, which was celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Oct. 13. The Mass marks the traditional start of the judicial year.
The society also recognizes members of the legal community who show “a commitment to the principles of justice and humanity.” The award is given without regard to political or religious affiliation. The local St. Thomas More Society, which has about 100 members, is independent of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
The honorees remind lawyers and people who work in law about its deepest values, said David Mobley, president of the St. Thomas More Society. He is an attorney at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.
“The honorees, in fact all of our honorees, remind me that the legacy we leave behind in this world is not where we live or what we drive—the legacy we all leave behind is the lives we touch and hopefully influence in a positive and meaningful way,” he said in an email.
Bryan Cavan, an attorney at Miller & Martin, PLCC, was also honored for his work as the past president of the Georgia Bar Association.
Cavan was saluted for his leadership of the state organization; during cuts in funding for public service programs and steep unemployment, he helped keep the legal system functioning. The issues remain, but the association is equipped to handle the hurdles because of his efforts, according to the St. Thomas More Society. Among his accomplishments was overseeing the successful implementation of a program to help military veterans deal with legal issues.
Cavan, who spent three years in a seminary in the 1960s, was applauded for his efforts for “for never losing sight of his commitment to justice and humanity throughout his long professional journey.”
“I was very surprised. I had no idea my name had been placed in nomination,” said Cavan, who attends St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan.
Castellani strongly believes that the way to reduce crime is to focus on helping people beat addictions. He said attacking the drug problem with the alternative program is cheaper and has a higher success rate in keeping people out of jail.
“It’s a good investment,” said Castellani, who is now a senior fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion after retiring from the bench a year ago.
“I don’t deserve it. I’ll accept it on behalf of the team,” he said of the recognition. The program’s success depends on contributions from a variety of people, from police officers and public defenders to prosecutors and social workers, he said.
The Red Mass dates to the 13th century. It calls on God to bestow wisdom upon judges and lawmakers for the coming year. Its name comes from the red garments worn by clergymen, symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit.