Whether he is speaking to highly educated lawyers, fellow judges, or people who have lost everything from drug addiction, San Bernardino County Superior Court Commissioner Ronald J. Gilbert treats everyone the same way – with respect.
“I actually enjoy people,” said Commissioner Gilbert, who presides over adult and juvenile drug courts in Rancho Cucamonga. “I have fun with what I am doing. I see dignity in giving people another chance with their lives. I get joy from seeing people get their lives back together.”
A University of La Verne College of Law ’84 alumnus, Commissioner Gilbert practiced law as a public defender in Rancho Cucamonga for eight years before being sworn in as a judge in 1993. In addition to running the drug courts, he presides over traffic and other cases, including unlawful detainers and short-cause civil actions. Commissioner Gilbert, whose first passion was acting, recognizes that people who come into his courtroom are not happy to be there.
Each day, Commissioner Gilbert juggles a full calendar. Fridays, which are devoted to drug court, are particularly hectic. He hears adult cases in the mornings and juvenile cases in the afternoons.
The goal of Commissioner Gilbert’s drug court is to divert offenders out of the criminal justice system and into a recovery program where they can stay clean and sober. The program requires that participants stay clean of drugs and alcohol for 18 months, show up for court dates, undergo random drug testing, attend group therapy and participate in 12-step programs.
Using humor and being pleasant mitigates the tension, he said.
“I accomplish the same goals so what’s the point of being a jerk?” he said. “I’m friendly. I’m playful. I come across more like an older brother than a father figure.”
When they succeed, Commissioner Gilbert is there to commend them.
He attends graduation ceremonies for those who complete drug court and has been known to hand out cakes at Narcotics Recovery meetings when addicts reach certain milestones in their sobriety. At biannual barbeques for drug court clients who are going through recovery programs, Commissioner Gilbert cooks up hot dogs and hamburgers.
He calls being part of that transformation is rewarding.
“I actually do get a chance to change peoples’ lives and help them get back on a better path,” he said.