By Deby Goldfarb
Simply the Best Magazine
The walls of his office are covered with certificates, degrees and awards yet Mark Astor, Attorney and Counselor at Law, is unpretentious and down-to-earth. He specializes in helping those suffering from the diseases of substance abuse and mental health disorders, most often individuals from 18-30 years of age, and he does it with heart.
His fortuitous beginning as a Certified Legal Intern in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office in 1993 was “a real privilege” and the “best job I ever had”, he said, since it led him on a path to his current career. “I knew five minutes into my first trial that this is what I wanted to do and where I was supposed to be,” he remarked. He parlayed that experience into opening his own business, one with a very important specialty. Though it can be very difficult, Mark derives a huge amount of satisfaction in helping youngsters in trouble. “People tend to come to me when there is nowhere else to turn. Typically it will be parents of a teenager or young adult who has become addicted to drugs,” he said.
Mark explained that a statute in the state of Florida called “The Marchman Act” allows a parent, guardian or even close friend to petition a court to intervene and convince an addict that drug rehabilitation is needed. The Marchman Act is a two-step process: First, assessment and stabilization. Mark spends a great deal of time with the family and evaluates the negative behaviors (lying, cheating, stealing, drug use) of the person so that he can draft a petition which is filed on an ex parte basis (only the Petitioner’s allegations are reviewed). Once filed and reviewed for legal sufficiency, the Court can order an individual to be assessed for up to five (5) days. A judge signs a court order and a sheriff brings the person to a facility for assessment and stabilization. Second, after a hearing, which takes place within 10 days of the filing of the petition, the court can order an individual into treatment for up to ninety (90) days. If the individual leaves treatment prior to completion of the Court ordered treatment, contempt proceedings can be initiated and a “pick up order” requested. The Court can use the threat of incarceration to “leverage” the individual back into treatment.
Mark said that many parents worry that this process will break up the family but he has found that once the addict has been off drugs, even if it is only for the five days of assessment and stabilization, the person is more rational, and the family is brought closer together.
After 23 years in the Criminal Justice system, Mark has seen that “without help, drug abusers never get better.” He called it “a revolving door” in that they briefly try rehab, get out and get addicted again.” He said without help/therapy, they end up repeatedly back in a rehab facility, or worse, in prison. Once a person is a convicted felon, he or she loses the right to vote, has difficulty being hired for employment, and faces disgrace by family, friends and the community. Mark’s goal is to intervene before that happens so that the addict completes the 5 days of assessment and stabilization, and then receives court-ordered treatment.
Mark’s involvement gives his clients true advantages. He takes time to meet with families to fully understand each situation; he has the experience and knowledge of the criteria needed to file the petition correctly the first time and to expedite the entire process; he has expertise and understanding in dealing with families in crisis whereas many lawyers fail to recognize the personal and emotional aspects. As Mark described, “the family is all-consumed with their difficulties and the lawyer is focused on business. I believe in the human factor.”
To offset the stress in his job, Mark has found a release of tension in the study of Martial Arts. He teaches “Krav Maga,” a military self-defense system developed in Israel that is a mixture of boxing, wrestling, karate, judo and even street fighting. Referring to the self-defense and fitness the system offers, Mark said, “that’s my place of peace—teaching this.”
Mark also finds peace in the fact that he has found his niche in not only building a business but in helping people with recovery. He said, “since only a few lawyers use this (the Marchman Act), I bring in a different perspective to it all because of my extensive experience in the criminal justice system.” Having a brother who practiced holistic medicine for many years has taught me to take a similar approach to families and individuals who are in crisis because of substance abuse and mental health disorders. “I take a holistic approach in law. When I spend time with a family, I take into consideration that I am dealing with their most precious asset, their child. I try to find the cause of the trauma…the when, where, how it started, so I can determine the best options for helping the family heal and put the pieces back together.”
Mark concluded optimistically saying, “Many individuals are still savable and capable of becoming productive members of society; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I give people hope by giving them a plan of action, with options. It is not hopeless.”