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Obituary: Joseph Lamberti


Cite as: December 2015 89 (12) LIJ, p.27

24 August 1952 - 12 June 2015

Joseph Matthew Michael Lamberti was of Italian origin, born in the heart of working class New York in 1952.

He began working in his career of drug rehabilitation in the early 1970s in the US. He completed studies in psychology and criminology, did a graduate diploma in social science (drug dependence) and eventually an MBA which majored in drugs in the workplace and treatment of those in custody.

In 1966, Dr Judianne Densen-Gerber founded Odyssey House, one of the early drug-free therapeutic communities that helped addicts recover. She was a leading advocate of such programs, which involved group residence and group therapy as opposed to methadone-maintenance programs. She employed Joseph and he quickly rose to managerial ranks. His indefatigable energy was such that Odyssey House expanded at a great rate. He was part of the development team that helped establish Odyssey House residential programs in 12 US states. He became a senior member of the quality assurance board of Odyssey House America in 1974 and progressed to junior vice-president of Odyssey Institute International. In 1977 he was invited to be the founding CEO of Odyssey House Victoria. He remained in that position from 1978 to 1994.

In 1994 he established Lamberti Associates, a network of healthcare professionals who focused on people with addictive behaviour disorders. Joseph felt the need to expand his work to the area of advocacy on behalf of offenders as they approached their court hearings. This was necessary as the government was eliminating suspended sentences conditional on treatment and there was a need for a voice in the courts and the guiding of offenders to the many treatment programs that had been created.

Lamberti Associates predominantly worked in the area of court advocacy and about 70 per cent of Joseph’s work was acting as part of a defence team providing expert evidence in drug related crime.

Joseph spent a good portion of his working life trying to educate the judiciary, health professionals and wider community on the marriage between law and medicine as it relates to addictive behaviours and crime.

Joseph has given evidence in Australia and abroad to every level of the judiciary. He has published numerous papers, presented at conferences and has been a guest lecturer to universities on this topic. He became a familiar face in the courts of Victoria and was called upon regularly to give his opinion in difficult cases. He was much respected by all.

In 1979, with the aim of expanding Odyssey House throughout Asia, Joseph became the founding director of Odyssey House Drug Rehabilitation programs in Victoria.

Throughout his time as director he brought a different flavour to drug rehabilitation. Having set up the storefront admission centre in Greville Street, Prahran, he began working with the legendary magistrate William John (Jack) Maloney, the Chief Magistrate of the Prahran Magistrates Court, to introduce alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenders. Working with local solicitors, assessments of offenders with serious drug problems started and admission to Odyssey House was offered as an alternative to jail.

Magistrate Maloney, having listened to Joseph, allowed members of Odyssey House to permanently attend the Prahran Magistrates Court. At that time there was legislation in place that allowed imprisonment to be suspended while successful rehabilitation took place. Many were sent to Odyssey House instead of jail.

Joseph was courageous while Odyssey House was in his command. He took on the hard cases, the recidivists that everyone else had given up on and he converted them into drug and alcohol counsellors. There are hundreds of success stories.

When Joseph’s death became known, the messages started to pour in. The sentiments had much in common. Among them was “Always respected from all sides, both prosecution, defence and the judiciary”.

This obituary was prepared by Rob Melasecca, barrister and solicitor and an LIV accredited specialist in criminal law, who worked with Joseph Lamberti.


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