Thursday, February 12, 2009

Special court's sole function is support of military veterans

Special court's sole function is support of military veterans

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press

EDWARDSVILLE -- With combat duty in Vietnam under his belt, Madison County Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr. knows veterans often have special issues in terms of drug treatment and mental illness. Soon, many of them may be getting an offer of special judicial help.

Taking a page from a similar program launched a year ago in New York, court administrators plan to launch a court designed to deal with only military veterans charged with nonviolent crimes.

The mission: Divert many of the veterans from the criminal courts to a program that, much like popular drug courts, will offer them treatment for underlying issues, perhaps sparing them a criminal conviction if they complete the treatment.

“There are a lot of services out there; one thing the court will be able to do is get them connected” with veterans, ideally keeping them from becoming repeat offenders, Ann Callis, the county’s chief judge, said.

Veterans’ participation will be voluntary and Callis said it will be staffed by veterans from virtually every branch of the military. The prosecutor will be former Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Stewart, the public defender former Navy Lt. Tyler Bateman — officials Callis said “hopefully would have more of an understanding (of veterans’ issues) from being there.”

Callis said she hoped the veterans’ court would be under way locally by early March, with no immediate expectations about how many veterans might take part.

No additional funding would be required for the court, and Madison County Bar Association lawyers will donate their services, Callis said.

Such courts have been cropping up elsewhere. One in Rochester, N.Y., has the same judge who already oversees the local drug treatment and mental health court. That court was modeled after one launched in Buffalo about a year ago.

A similar court is being considered in Nevada’s Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and in western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, which serves
Special court's sole function is support of military veterans

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