A change in plans for courthouse constant
Elizabeth “Lizanne” Redmond, if you ask her, will tell you that the most rewarding part of her multi-faceted professional career were the 20 or so years she spent with the Chester County Department of Probation, Parole, and Pre-trial Services.
“It was a passion of mine,” Redmond said in a recent interview, sitting in a conference room on the sixth floor of the Chester County Justice Center. “Adult probation is the hardest working department in the county. They do what is right for the people who come through the (criminal justice) system. I loved working there.”
But sometimes even the greatest reward comes with a price.
Redmond, who started working in the probation field after graduation, stepped away from her position as a supervisor in the office on May 13, “The only Friday the 13th in 2016” she is quick to point out. Although well shy of her normal retirement age, Redmond said she had come to see the work she was doing overseeing cases for the county’s various treatment court programs, most notably Drug Court, as “overwhelming.”
She stepped aside in May in anticipation of a one-year anniversary of an event that she said deeply affected her ability to deal professionally with those defendants she saw coming through the probation offices with drug addictions, a demographic that makes up a significant portion of people in the justice system.
On July 22, 2015, Thomas Redmond, her nephew, died of a heroin overdose at age 22. He had just been released from a 28-day rehabilitation stay at the Malvern Institute, not far from
the home where Redmond herself grew up in and now lives. A drug user since his early teens, Thomas Redmond tried to use the drug he’d become addicted to in the same amount he was used to.
“It was a recipe for disaster for him,” Redmond said in the interview. “People use what they used before, and their system just isn’t ready for it.”
Redmond said the feeling she had at his death was overpowering. “I had helped hundreds of people, and yet I couldn’t help the one person that was the most important to me.”
Redmond grew up in Willistown, and graduated from Villanova University where, her cousin, P.J. Redmond, said she kept a horse, named Soul Survivor, for four years and eventually rode home through the fields of eastern Chester County. She started working for the county’s probation office, directed there by an uncle who worked in the county courthouse.
She left the office, and the state, in 1987 to live and work in Sedona, Arizona, but returned in 1994 because she “missed it.” In the late 1990s, she graduated from Widener School of Law, and began working as a criminal defense attorney, first with fellow Widener alumnus Dawson R. Muth and then with famed defense attorney John J. Duffy of West Chester.
She returned to the probation office in 2009, and became intricately involved with Drug Court. That program allows non-violent offenders whose criminal behavior is linked to their drug or alcohol use to work toward erasure of their criminal records and, most importantly, ending their addictions through a highly intensive oversight and review process.
Redmond, who her cousin calls “the best problem-solver in Chester County,” was able to put her talents to work.
“It is one of my biggest strengths, solving problems,” she acknowledged. “I do not see an obstacle that I can’t get over. I always anticipate every problem that lies ahead, and have a solution for it.”
Her work was recognized not only by her supervisors in the probation office, but also by the judges who oversee the treatment court universe.
“She has been a constant in the courthouse,” said Common Pleas Judge Phyllis Streitel, now the supervising judge for the county’s treatment court. “She has such a wealth of knowledge, and she was such an asset to the office. She knew all the angles.
“She did her work with compassion and with a good sense of humor, which is probably the only way she could have lasted as long as she did,” Streitel said.
“Her dedication to those struggling with the law and addiction is remarkable and she will fight until the bitter end for her people,” said Kristen Mammarella Timko, a paralegal with the Lamb McErlane law firm in West Chester who worked with Redmond in the past and looks to her as a mentor.
But Redmond said that her equilibrium and ability to deal with the problems she saw among the offenders she came across began to deteriorate after the overdose death of her nephew. “I kind of lost my way a little bit,” she said.
Instead of being able to deal with the offenders dispassionately and realistically, “I kept seeing him in everything I did. Everyone’s case became life or death for me. I lost my healthy boundary, and I started to identify with the addicts and their struggle, and I could not effectively deal with them.
“It took its toll on me, physically and emotionally,” Redmond allowed. “I just thought, ‘What am I doing?’”
Redmond sat down and “ran the numbers” of her finances, and found herself able to leave her position and “take the summer off.” She now works part-time for Muth and attorney Francis Miller of West Chester, men she has known since law school. Indeed, the morning she met with a reporter, she handled the case of a 19-yearold woman who was entering Drug Court and trying to overcome an addiction of prescription drugs.
Redmond remains deeply committed to the effort to deal with addiction issues in the county, including the Warm HandOff program, which gets immediate help to those who have suffered drug overdoses. She said part of the problem is getting the community to view drug addiction as a disease as prevalent as alcohol abuse.
“Despite all the people who are dying from heroin overdoses, there is still a stigma attached to drug addicts that isn’t there for alcoholics,” she said. “It is hurting every socio-economic background of people you can think of. It is spiraling out of control. And having an addict who can relate to another addict talk to them, to get them help, that is a beautiful thing.”
Redmond sad she considers herself in a “softretirement” mode, but is open to what comes her way. “I’ve got to pay the rent. But I am going to see what the world has to offer me,” she said.
Fundraiser for fighting opioid crisis
In an effort to raise awareness of the impact of the nation’s dangerous opioid and heroin addiction epidemic and its reach into Chester County, officials are organizing a “Color 5K Run/Walk” event on Nov. 5 in West Chester, funds from which will go to county agencies that are battling the addiction problem on multiple fronts. Sponsorship opportunities at many levels are available for companies and individuals to offset the cost of the Color 5K Run/Walk and raise additional funds. For more information contact Rebecca Brain, Chester County Communications Coordinator, at 610344-6279 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Her dedication to those struggling with the law and addiction is remarkable and she will fight until the bitter end for her people.” — Kristen Mammarella-Timko, a paralegal with the Lamb McErlane law firm in West Chester
Lizanne Redmond, center, is seen with colleagues Francis Miller, left, and Dawson R. Muth in front of the Chester County Justice Center.