Keys judge breaks chains by example

Florida Bar News - November 15, 2002

Monroe County Judge Ruth Becker-Painter

Monroe County Judge Ruth Becker-Painter, a seasoned, long-distance runner the past 28 years, has incorporated her passion for the sport into creative sentencing in Drug Court.Judge Ruth Becker-Painter

When sitting as a circuit court judge in a criminal division, Judge Becker-Painter presides over adult Drug Court in the Marathon Courthouse. She has developed a physical fitness and exercise plan as part of her mandatory conditions of probation in order to help break the chains of addiction.

"There is a philosophy that I live, and I believe fits well for others— developing physical well-being rounds out other types of treatment for sound mental health," Judge Becker-Painter said. "I try to get the participants to begin thinking along the lines of physical well-being as part of their entire health-recovery picture."

Judge Becker-Painter orders the defendants to exercise three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon their physical abilities.

Running For Rehabilitation

Once a month Judge Becker-Painter runs with the participants across the old Seven Mile Bridge as far as Pidgeon Key, approximately four miles. She runs well ahead of most others who are only required to make the trip — whether by walking, running, cycling, or skateboarding. Most of them walk. The probationeers wear her logo t-shirt: "JUDGE BECKER'S CHAIN BREAKERS," which signifies they are breaking the cycle of addiction. The shirt was designed in a contest held by the participants.

"There is a party atmosphere and an economy which caters to drugs and alcohol consumption in the Keys." Judge Becker-Painter said. "The exercise gives them some kind of activity to get away from the bars, and hopefully to release some endorphins, a natural way to feel good. Endorphins, unlike some other brain chemicals, are not suppressed by chronic drug abuse."

A veteran runner of eight marathons, including the Boston, New York, Marine Corps, and Walt Disney World marathons, Judge Becker-Painter also has won two gold medals and a silver in the Law Enforcement Olympics Half-Marathon.

Her idea to incorporate exercise into conditions of probation really took root when Judge Becker-Painter married her husband, Jim Painter, six years ago. Her husband is a Cooper Institute-trained personal trainer responsible for the Monroe County Sheriff's Department's fitness testing. He has competed with the judge in the Law Enforcement Olympics, where he has won the gold medal twice in an eight-event, 11-hour ordeal known as the "Toughest Cop Alive." Painter is also the holder of numerous track records in his home state of Illinois.

The added element of physical exercise has been a success for some in Judge Becker-Painter's Drug Court who have gone on to participate in several local races. One of her incentives is to help those who maintain their sobriety to shoot for the annual Seven Mile Bridge Run in April of each year.

A county judge for 12 years, Judge Becker-Painter is a graduate of Smith College where she was an honors major in microbiology. She graduated from Temple University School of Law and began her legal career with Florida Rural Legal Services, representing migrant farm workers in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. She joined the public defender's office in Key West where she served as chief assistant before her election to the bench.

Judge Becker-Painter also represents the 20th Judicial Circuit on the Board of Directors of the Conference of County Court Judges.


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Updated 12/11/2003