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Another celeb might go to rehab

The television camera was focused, and press notebooks readied, all to cover a man charged with the petty crime of alcohol intoxication.

But this wasn't just any man. It was only the most famous homeless man in America.

"Hey Henry!" Fayette District Judge Megan Lake Thornton said to Henry "James Brown" Earl, the Lexington homeless man who is an Internet celebrity for having reportedly been arrested more than 1,300 times.

"How you doing?" Earl, 58, responded.

Somebody from the audience affectionately cried out, "That's James Brown!"

Thornton has made it a priority to get the most-arrested person in Lexington into rehab to treat his alcoholism. But in a court hearing Thursday, she was told that officials from the Hope Center had yet to interview Earl for a treatment program it offers.

Earl told the judge that he's willing to go to rehab if the Hope Center will accept him.

Thornton said she will call the Hope Center to get an interview scheduled. She set his next court date for Oct. 23.

If he can't get treatment, then Earl will go to trial facing a 90-day jail sentence, said his attorney, Stephen Gray McFayden.

This time around, at least, Earl says he is innocent.

McFayden said police arrested him after he was found sleeping on the back porch of a home. But McFayden said Earl was bright-eyed and sober, and was arrested merely "because of who he is."

Earl has been to treatment at least twice before, most recently last year, McFayden said. The attorney, who is representing Earl for free, did not know exactly how many times Earl has been to rehab because his criminal file is so large.

"It would take a week to read through it," he said.

Earl has been bombarded with interview requests the last few weeks. He declined to comment. A jail official said Earl is sick of all the attention.

In the last interview he granted, to the Herald-Leader in 2005, Earl said he did not want to quit drinking. But he also acknowledged that he needed to change his lifestyle.

He says he last held a job in 1969.

McFayden said Earl should not be in jail. He said he wants to get Earl into low-income housing and on Social Security disability.

Earl has been trying for years to get on Social Security. McFayden said Earl has not been able to stay out of jail more than 60 days at a time to qualify for it.

McFayden said that Earl has not actually been drunk during many of his arrests — police who come across him just assume he's drunk. The arrests are preventing Earl from getting the help he needs, he said.

"Henry is being picked on," he said.

It's not clear whether the Hope Center inpatient program would accept Earl. He said in 2005 that he was banned from the homeless shelter for showing up drunk.

Earl has frequently spent time at the Catholic Action Center, the place of last resort for homeless persons who have been kicked out of other shelters.

Center director Ginny Ramsey said Earl bragged to her just two months ago that he was staying sober. Ramsey said she believed him.

"Maybe it had only been a day, I don't know," she said. "But he looked better. He looked healthier."

Earl is widely regarded as a harmless eccentric. His nickname is James Brown, after the soul singer, because he'll shuffle for booze and money.

The Catholic Action Center has never had any problems with him, Ramsey said.

"Everybody loves Henry," Ramsey said. "He's a sweetheart."

She said she's offered over the years to get Earl into a treatment center run by the Salvation Army in Erie, Pa. But Earl has refused.

She said it's not uncommon for chronically homeless alcoholics to have to go through treatment several times before they can stay sober.

But the person has to want to clean up; forcing alcoholics into treatment to avoid jail time is rarely affective, Ramsey said.

First Assistant County Attorney Brian Mattone said prosecutors support treating Earl, but only if he's sincere about sobering up.

"This sort of flies in the face of what conventional wisdom says by his track record and his history," Mattone said. "But the indication is that he is willing to do it."