The Community Court opened in 1998 as an alternative for handling low-level and nonviolent cases such as public drinking and loitering, with defendants often being ordered to perform community service. It was the nation’s second full-time court of its kind, modeled after Manhattan’s Midtown Community Court that opened in 1993.
“Our defendants ‘pay back’ the community for their violation,” Norko wrote in a letter announcing his retirement last year. “However, in having a defendant perform community service in the neighborhoods affected by their behavior, we are trying to connect the person with a sense of belonging and contributing to the community.”
The court has won several honors, including being named a mentor to courts across the country by the U.S. Department of Justice and Center for Court Innovation.
Norko himself won a national honor last year — the American Bar Association’s Franklin N. Flaschner Award for outstanding judge in a specialized court.
Judge Patrick Carroll III, the state’s chief court administrator, said Norko was known for being a compassionate, yet firm, judge.
“He was hardworking, personable, committed and 100% dedicated to ensuring that every single person who appeared before him had meaningful access to justice,” Carroll said.
Norko began his legal career in 1970 as a legal aid lawyer for the poor. Democratic Gov. William O’Neill nominated him to the bench in 1985.
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