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Judiciary Mourns Loss of Ellen Abbott

The Tennessee Judiciary mourns the loss of Ellen Abbott, who served as the Director of the Office of Criminal Justice Services at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Ms. Abbott played a vital role in the development and success of the state's recovery courts, including drug courts, Veterans courts, mental health courts, safe baby courts, and other specialty courts. She passed away unexpectedly on January 11, 2021, at the age of 56. 

"We know that this will come as a shock, and we know that our grief will only be surpassed by our memories of her determination, grit, get it done attitude, incredible laughter, and passion for creating restorative options for people in the criminal justice system. Her passing leaves a tremendous void in the TDMHSAS family and among the criminal justice advocates with whom she served." TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams said in a letter. "Ellen was someone who had such great relationships with so many people. That's how she was able to have such an amazing impact on so many people, and that's also what makes this news so sad and devastating. Ellen was an innovator in her field, and her willingness to try new things is evidenced by the many and varied programs she led. Under Ellen's leadership, Tennessee's Recovery Courts, Criminal Justice Liaisons, Residential court programs, and other high impact initiatives grew by leaps and bounds to where they are today with availability in nearly every county. She was so excited for the opening of the new women's residential recovery court, and we know her legacy and impact will continue to be felt there and in programs across the state."

Ms. Abbott served in the TDMHSAS since 2006 and worked closely with many judges and court staff on creating problem-solving courts in nearly every Tennessee county.  

"The AOC joins in expressing our deepest sympathy to Ellen’s family, her colleagues at TDMHSAS and all those who have been touched by her deep compassion and support for the entire recovery community across our state," said AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. "Her lifetime of public service and deep belief in the resilience of the human spirit is a testament to all that one life truly can make a difference."

Ms. Abbott also played an essential role in both the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative and the Tennessee Judicial Opioid Initiative, now known as the Tennessee SMART Justice Network.

"Ellen Abbott was the single greatest champion in the State of Tennessee for resources and policies to equip justice stakeholders to meet hurting people where they are with interventions that provide hope and healling," said Judge Duane Slone, chair of RJOI and the TN SMART Justice Network. "She leaves a huge void in our state and in our hearts."

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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"I am thankful for Ellen's countless efforts and deep commitment to serving others and providing opportunities of healing, recovery, and new beginnings.  Her leadership and contributions are invaluable and immeasurable.  Our state has suffered a tremendous loss with Ellen's tragic passing.  Our hearts and prayers go out to her family, especially, during this time.  We hurt with them and for them." - Stephanie Etheridge, Juvenile Court Manager/Statewide Judicial Safe Baby Court Coordinator 

"My deepest sympathy to the family of this energetic, professional and compassionate lady.  Ellen was innovative and always willing to accept a new challenge or program.  She will be missed and prayers are extended for her family and all of those who knew and loved her." - Judge Michael E. Spitzer, Circuit Court Judge 21st Judicial District, Division V

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Ellen’s tragic passing.  Ellen was an inspiration to so many of us.  She was dedicated to finding innovative solutions to assist families across Tennessee struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.  I wish I had more time to work with and learn from her.  A truly remarkable woman’s life taken from us too soon." - Stacy Lynch, Attorney/Magistrate Rutherford County Family Preservation Court