Longtime Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller attended the Benton-Franklin Adult Drug Court graduation Wednesday expecting to recognize the achievements of five men who have overcome the odds and set their lives back on track.
But before the graduation commenced, Miller received a surprise award recognizing his leadership and commitment to the adult drug court program.
Miller was given the Hero of Hope award for helping start the drug court program and being a founding member and current president of the nonprofit Circle of Hope Foundation, which helps pay for the program.
"Clear back in 2001-2001, when individuals were gathering to discuss starting drug court programs, Andy was willing to come to the table," said Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge. "Without Andy's willingness to come to the table, there certainly would not be any Benton-Franklin County Adult Drug Court programs."
Runge, who presides over the weekly program meetings and drug court proceedings, said Miller's contributions to drug court through the years were too numerous to list. But, she did point out that when the program was "literally on the brink of collapse" last year, Miller stepped up and found different money sources in the county's coffers to keep the program running.
Prior recipients of the Hero of Hope include: the late Diehl Rettig, a prominent Tri-City lawyer and longtime advocate of drug court who died suddenly in May; Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg; former Benton County sheriff's Lt. Jerry Hatcher; Jacque van Wormer, the Models for Change coordinator for the bicounty juvenile system; and Dave Schulz, president and CEO of Hapo Community Credit Union.
Miller's parents, Norm and Shirley Miller, his sons, Madison Storm, Seb Miller and Dash Miller, and his girlfriend, Adele Connors, were in court for Wednesday's ceremony.
When Miller accepted the award, he thanked everyone for the recognition, said "you're way too kind," then quickly turned the attention on to the graduates.
He acknowledged that the job of lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers -- who were in attendance Wednesday -- can take its toll.
"One reason I go to every drug court graduation is (because) I'm inspired by you," Miller said to the five men waiting to graduate.
The graduates, Jonathan Llanez-Ortuno and Tyler Maddox (from Benton County), and Alejandro Aguilar, Leonel Guzman and Armando Herrera-Sablana (from Franklin County), then received their certificates.
Runge said all five "young extraordinary men" made significant changes in their lives since they began attending drug court and they are all now able to support and spend time with their families.
The graduates told their supporters and the current drug court participants that it's been a hard, long road, but it's worth it in the end.
"It's definitely hard at first. It's work," Maddox said. "But that's what they're trying to show you, through work you will get success."