Area drug court takes first two cases

WINCHESTER – The Northwestern Regional Adult Drug Treatment Court made its debut Tuesday with two judges alternately warning and exhorting the first two participants to make the most of the opportunity before them.

The participants, Raymond Lineburg, of Stephens City, and James Thall, of Winchester, both have long histories of drug-related offenses and relapses after treatment and rehabilitation efforts. The drug court in Frederick County, like those elsewhere in the state and nation, was conceived as an effort to ramp up treatment and rehabilitation of addicts with intense personal accountability and tighter supervision after an inmate is released from jail.

The result is a program that includes frequent home visits by law enforcement officials, drug screenings, meetings with probation officers, substance abuse counseling and coaching in various life skills, all designed to keep the inmate from relapsing, committing new crimes and returning to jail.

Judge Alexander Iden, a former Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney, reminded Thall he had once prosecuted him. Now, Iden said, he was declaring himself free of any conflict of interest stemming from those previous cases.

In remarks he said were aimed at other addicts facing criminal charges who are considering enrollment in the drug court, Iden warned them, “This is not a get out of jail free card.”

He told Lineburg and Thall that “focus, truthfulness and commitment should be your watchwords” for completing the program successfully.

Judge Randy Bryant, the other member of the judiciary presiding over the drug court, approved plea bargains in Circuit Court last week that enrolled Lineburg and Thall in the drug court. Several other defendants are in the vetting pipeline that determines whether someone can participate.

“This is not going to be an easy road,” Bryant told Lineburg and Thall. “There’s going to be days when you say, ‘Why am I doing this?'”

Like all other drug court participants, Thall and Lineburg agreed not to use attorneys in settling any issues that might arise, a feature of the drug court intended to discourage adversarial proceedings that are fundamental to the rest of the legal system. The hope is that the participants will work cooperatively with law enforcement officers, probation officers, counselors and others in freeing themselves of their addiction.

In brief remarks to the judges, Lineburg and Thall spoke ruefully about their past and their desire to set out on a new path.

“I was tired of being the person I am, addicted to drugs,” Thall said in explaining his reasons for participating in the drug court.

Lineburg also declared himself ready for a fresh start.

I’ve been doing heroin for almost 20 years, and I’m just nowhere,” Lineburg said. “I tell people in jail, this is what heroin does to you right here.”

Public Defender Tim Coyne, who led the effort to establish the drug court, said in an interview afterward that he was excited to see the two men introduced to the judges and others who will be working with them. Coyne’s office represented Thall while he was being vetted for the drug court.

“We’re getting them into treatment tomorrow,” Coyne said of Thall and Lineburg, adding that the immediate availability of treatment was a welcome departure from the criminal justice system’s usual lack of non-punitive options for addicts.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or