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Drug court planned in Westmoreland County

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
Chris Feliciani

A reorganization of Westmoreland County's Court of Common Pleas will pave the way for establishment of a drug court.

Court officials announced last week that a specialized program will be established next year to assist defendants who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

It will be administered by Judge Chris Feliciani. Next month, he will transfer from civil court to criminal court.

“I've always felt we had a need for it,” Feliciani said. “There is a very high percentage of people moving through the system with drug and alcohol addictions.”

His shift to criminal court is part of an overall reorganization of the bench because of the appointments of Harry Smail and David Regoli. Both will be sworn into office on July 21.

How the drug court will function has yet to be determined.

Up to eight court employees will undergo three days of training this summer from the National Drug Court Institute, based in Alexandria, Va. Grant money will pay for the training.

Meanwhile, the county will seek grants to pay for implementation of the drug court.

Dirk Matson, the county's human services director and co-chairman of the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force, said funding options are being explored.

“It's just one more piece in helping us deal with a very complicated problem,” Matson said.

He said a recent study of 100 overdoses in the county revealed that 65 percent involved people who were involved in the criminal justice system.

Court Administrator Paul Kuntz said officials anticipate as many as 40 defendants could be enrolled in drug court.

For the last several years, Feliciani has overseen a drug court for parents involved in family court custody cases. There are three parents enrolled in that program.

Feliciani has worked in the civil court division for the last six months. He had served 10 years as a family court judge.

Regoli will be assigned to civil court, and Smail will work in the family court division.

Judge Megan Bilik-DeFazio, who took office in January, will transfer from family court to criminal court. Kuntz said Bilik-DeFazio will continue to oversee some child custody cases as well.

President Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr., who in January shifted from civil to criminal court, will return to his previous assignment in August.

Judge Al Bell, who has worked in criminal court, will retire on July 18.

Senior Judge John Driscoll will continue to carry a full case load in family court.

With the new appointments and Driscoll's continued work, the county bench will have all of its 11 courtrooms in use.

“Now that we are at full complement, our expectations are that we will be able to keep pace with the caseload,” Kuntz said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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