Broward Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren’s 20 Years Of Helping The Mentally Ill




For 20 years, Broward County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren has been doing the Courthouse’s most challenging job:

Trying to help the mentally ill.




It’s a Sisyphean task.

Tight budgets, the lack of leadership in Tallahassee and the intricacy of dealing with those who have little grip on reality have stood in Lerner-Wren’s way.

She perseveres.

And on June 23, Lerner-Wren is scheduled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her Broward County Mental Health Court.

“Judge Wren has been a saving grace for those who suffer with mental illness and their families,” Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said.

Broward’s Mental Health Court was the first in the nation. It became a template for communities everywhere.

Over the past 20 years, national honors and awards have poured in.  The judge has become a national spokeswoman for treatment of the mentally ill, frequently featured on national television and at government hearings.

Yet Lerner-Wren was a judge only one year in 1997 when she was named by then-Chief Judge Dale Ross to head the newly formed Mental Health Court.

It was a wonderful choice!

Although only 37 at the time, Lerner-Wren had been fighting for the rights of the mentally ill for years. Before her 1996 election, Lerner-Wren was the Broward County Public Guardian. She was responsible for monitoring the welfare of disabled adults who were incapacitated. She also had a role in a federal lawsuit against abuses at the region’s mental hospital.

The Mental Health Court was the idea of Finkelstein and a task force headed by Circuit Judge Mark A. Speiser.

“Mental health court was born of crisis,” my pal Jenni Bergal wrote in a penetrating 2002 Sun-Sentinel article.

It was the highly publicized case of brain damaged Aaron Wynn that prompted the formation of the Court, Bergal wrote.

For Wynn, brain damaged in a motorcycle accident at 18, acting out belligerently became a way of life. His parents had fought unsuccessfully for years to get Aaron treatment. They were shuffled from government office to government office with no results.

In 1993, it became serious. Very serious.

Arrested for manslaughter, Wynn was accused of knocking down an 85-year-old woman outside a Hollywood grocery store. She hit her head on the pavement and died.

Wynn found incompetent to stand trial.

The case prompted a 1994 Grand Jury report. Jurors vilified a system that filled jails with up to 10,000 mentally ill annually, but then gave them little, if any, treatment from a fragmented health system

The Mental Health Court under Lerner-Wren was the result. The goal was to put all the help available to the mentally ill within reach of one judge.

It helped. How many, who knows?

But soon entering her third decade in Mental Health Court, the job remains a heavy lift for Lerner-Wren.

Defendants have visions. They hear voices. They don’t show up for appointments or take their meds.

A large number are also plagued with alcohol or drug dependency. Or both.

“Bipolar. Schizophrenic. Most of us wouldn’t have patience with these people for five minutes. Judge Lerner-Wren is amazing. She has the patience of Job. She listens, she is understanding while still following the law,” said lawyer Sam Fields, a contributor.

Fields hit upon what is Lerner-Wren’s most important achievement. It is what she has offered in the Mental Health Court these past 20 years:


Empathy for families. Sympathy for the afflicted.

For two decades, Lerner-Wren’s Broward County Mental Health Court has been a safe place for those luckless enough to have a terrible illness.

That deserves celebration.



The 20th anniversary celebration will be held Friday, June 23rd from 1:30-3:00 p.m. in Jury Room in the Broward County Central Courthouse, 201 SE Sixth Street, Fort Lauderdale.  

14 Responses to “Broward Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren’s 20 Years Of Helping The Mentally Ill”

  1. Old Timer says:

    A recognition well deserved. Thank you Ginger for your compassion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My son was ill for years and it was only until Judge Lerner-Wren intervened that he got help. He will never be “normal” and he improved since she got him the treatment he needed. She is a lifesaver.

  3. One Who Knows says:

    You pussyfoote around blaming the Legislature and Gov. Scott for Florida’s terrible situation with the mentally ill. It is the Legislature and Gov. Scott that refuses to pay for treatment. We are far behind other states, even ones much smaller and poorer than Florida.
    We have a choice of continuing to refuse to treat the ill and have them walk the streets many times homeless or paying more to try and help them.

  4. Sam The Sham says:

    It sounds like she is the perfect choice for this job. Well done.

    PS. I am glad that Sam Fields is finally getting some long needed help in this court.

  5. anonymous says:

    Judge Lerner-Wren is a fine jurist, pleasant and fair. I would put my name but I do not want to seem like I am brown nosing her. To me it is a pleasure to practice before her. I am glad to see her receive some credit for the job she does in mental health court, which is very difficult for a Mirada of reasons. Nice article.

  6. Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren says:

    Dear Buddy,
    Thank you for your recognition of Broward’s Mental Health Court. The court is a collaborative effort by CJ and MH partners whose support has sustained the Court for 20 years.
    Congratulations to all,
    Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren

  7. Patti Lynn says:

    Compassion and patience: Virtues that are in such short supply. I have watched Judge Lerner-Wren fight for funding, galvanize supporters to demand more resources and, generally, fight “the system.” Thank you for all that you have done. My you be given the strength to continue this fight until those who are mentally ill are given the justice that they deserve. Hats off to Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren.

  8. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    I agree that this mental health court must be there for mentally ill. However, because of one diagnois or another if you commit a crime going before Judge wren here should not give the defendant a free pass. Just recently the BSO off. settled for 30g involving the woman who refused to get up and was then dragged out of the hall way. She ended up w/ 30g from the BSO. I mean she was told repeatedly to get up. She refused. I don’t think it was suffice that she was awarded this settlement. I also blame her mother. I’m assuming the defandant’ mother was there since she kept screaming she wanted to talk w/ her mother. why didn’t the mother tell her to calm down. No, watch your child dragged across the room from something that was self inflicted(get your ass up). All could have been prevented. Original charge cocaine poss. in a motel room (cute). So Judge Wren does an outstanding job ,much more needs to be addressed in her court room..

  9. Antoinette R. Appel, Ph.D., Esq says:

    It is immoral to imprison people because of their mental illness. Judge Lerner-Wren has helped our community understand that, and has worked to make sure that people are treated, not imprisoned for their illness. Unfortunately, we are all only one blown stop sign from being an Aaron Wynn.

  10. Interesting Point and waste of our money says:

    Robert Walsh made and interesting yet totally faulty point. Why are we arresting people with minuscule amounts of cocaine? She was not even in the streets but in the privacy of a hotel room. Additionally why are parents responsible for

  11. Interesting Point and waste of our money says:

    Why are parents responsible for the behavior of their adult children?? The true crime is arresting people for non-violent drug offenses.
    Judge Wren is awesome and a great human..
    Sorry buddy my last comment cur off.

  12. Daniel Reynolds says:

    Candidate Lerner-Wren’s vision for what could be led the Broward AFL-CIO to endorse her original campaign for judge. She has worked hard to fulfill that vision to the benefit of Broward County. Unfortunately Jail continues to be treatment of choice for people with mental health issues in the US. Bravo to Judge Lerner-Wren for making a real difference.

  13. rightwing says:

    sadly, many are homeless and wandering the streets.broward blvd and Andrews ave is a haven for those seeking money.inside the bso jail, the same peplole come in, on a continuous basis, young and old. most crimes are minor, ike trespassing. some are more violent, and many steal from each other. it is very sad when a mentally disabled homeless man tells me he would prefer to stay in jail because he will eat three times a day, be able to shower and sleep on a mattress with a roof over his head. give my props to the judge knowing there is still much hard work to do.

  14. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    I was told the mother here concerning her daughter being dragged across the floor did ask to see her daughter and was refused. so I do now see all sides. lesson though when law enforcement tell you to do something ,do it. As far as letting someone walk away w/ a coke possession , no that will never happen. To close we are very fortunate to have this mental health court. Some cities its just lock them up. So we are making a difference….