New City Trick

Judge Jim Sullivan has a different way of dealing with crack whores -- don't just jail them, treat them for their addiction

Most of the time, she says, the women are friendly.

"I'm kind of outgoing and make them laugh, especially if they tell me no," she says. "I'm, like, 'What? Free testing -- are you kidding? Just because you're true to your partner doesn't mean your partner's true to you.'"

Even if Williford gets women to agree to come in, few show up. She tries to sign up 80 women a week, just to get eight through the door.

Jill Pearson
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."
Jennifer Silverberg
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."

Once one of those eight women walks through the door, an assistant with the study takes her history. Nurse Symphony Brooks draws her blood, then sits down with her, at which point, she says, she talks "down and dirty with these ladies."

She brings out a plastic penis and demonstrates the proper way to use a condom. She shows the woman a female condom and gives her a sample. She talks about dental dams and flavored condoms. Women resist using a condom for oral sex, she says, because they don't like the taste of latex.

"Now they have flavored condoms, so they are more apt to try that," Brooks says.

"I also teach them about drug use as well, the bleach, bleach-water method for cleaning needles," Brooks says. "We also give these kits away to IV users that are still using, with the bleach and the cotton balls."

They do not, however, give away clean needles.

She teaches them about venereal disease transmission and hepatitis C.

The women come back four and twelve months later to be interviewed about any changes in their sexual behavior.

Getting the women to convert to safe sex is tough.

"Men will pay more for sex without a condom," Cottler says, "and if [the women] really want money, then they won't use a condom, and that's a danger."

Even though Sullivan refers defendants to the program, Cottler says the visits are confidential. Whatever information the women share about their johns, their drug use or sex practices stays with the researchers. But Sullivan gets regular updates on the women's participation in the program -- whether they completed their required evaluations.

Cottler and Brooks say the prostitutes referred by Sullivan talk about the judge's tough requirements, and they're not always happy.

"The women complain, but they also say, 'He really cares about us,'" Brooks says.

Cottler and Brooks also have their own opinions about Sullivan's efforts with the prostitution court.

"He is the best," both women say.

"Quote me," Cottler says. "He is the best."


Jim Sullivan's courtroom is in a converted office building. It lacks the dark-wood paneling, antique-looking chandeliers and high ceilings that are found in the state courts a few blocks away. Instead, the 50-year-old man with salt-and-pepper hair sits up on the bench in a room with cheap flooring, lit by fluorescent lights. His office, just behind the bench, resembles a closet.

Sullivan calls defendants up to the bench one at a time.

"Good morning," he says to a woman in a skintight blue top and snow-white hair. Her stomach hangs over the waistband of her jean shorts.

Sullivan already knows her name.

"I talked to your caseworker this morning, and I'm hearing really good things about your progress," he says.

The woman beams.

He asks whether she's still taking medication prescribed by a doctor to help with her mental problems. She says yes.

"Are you suffering any side effects?" he asks in a concerned voice.

If a defendant answers yes, Sullivan will order her to go back to the doctor to discuss the side effects and find out about alternative medications. And he'll share with them that it takes a while for the medicine to start working.

He'll ask about the woman's living situation. Is the group home working out? What about her kids?

Is Alcoholics Anonymous helping?

Are you getting enough to eat? is another common question.

And the judge wants the defendants' opinions on the services of the not-for-profits he's enlisted.

Sullivan sounds more like the father of a troubled teen than an impersonal decision-maker trying to get the line moving.

He'll ask the woman when she thinks she should come back next. Is she comfortable with four weeks, or does she think she needs to be back in two? Some people prefer two, afraid they'll never make it four.

At Christmas, he'll ask the women, "Did you get your kids any crackhead-prostitute Barbies?"

They laugh.

He presses them on the issue, and the women will say they'd never get their children such a toy.

"Why should you expect any less for yourself?" he asks.

What many of the women don't realize is the lengths to which Sullivan has gone to offer them help.

This year, the city gave Sullivan $100,000 in grants to reimburse providers of housing, drug treatment, job training and health education. The year before, he received $140,000.

Nor is this a full-time gig for the judge. He makes $76,648 a year for 30 hours a week of work. But his work doesn't stop after the 30th hour, and when he leaves the courthouse, he still has clients to attend to in his law practice.

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