Needed in IL & CU Area
From: LARRY HOLMAN via Ney, Gerald A CIV 
Sent: Friday, May 28, 2010 3:14 PM
Subject: FW: Veterans Court winning cases
Posted on Wed, May. 26, 2010
Karen Heller: Veterans Court winning cases
By Karen Heller
Today is Veterans Day at the Criminal Justice Center. So is every
Wednesday, when it's time for Veterans Court, the Hon. and U.S. Army
Reserve Capt. Patrick F. Dugan presiding.
Established in March by state Supreme Court Justices Ronald D. Castille
and Seamus P. McCaffery, both decorated veterans, the court is one of
three in the state, and almost 20 nationwide, exclusively handling
veterans' misdemeanor cases.
It's already a success, a "problem-solving" court, like drug court and
mental health court, designed to expedite assistance and avoid costly
legal delays and jail time. Defendants range from age 20 (Iraq) to 80
(Korea), but the cases are remarkably sad and similar - virtually all
male, charged with driving under the influence, disorderly conduct,
possession, spousal abuse.
"A vast majority of the defendants are involved with drugs and alcohol,"
Dugan says. They need treatment and attention.
"I finished the ninth grade," says an Army veteran, picked up for
possession. He looks as if his best years are decades behind him.
"I believe you attended the University of Vietnam," says Dugan, who
speaks respectfully to all veterans. "You need to clean up. You've been
there. You've seen some crazy stuff in your life. This is illegal.
You've been through too much to go through that. So step up."
Normally, the wheels of justice grind slow. That is not the case in
Veterans Court, where 25 cases are adjudicated in two hours.
"In most courtrooms, it takes a long time to get a diversion program to
kick in because of the sheer size of the bureaucracies," says Dugan, a
former infantryman and paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, who later
served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He may also be, quite possibly,
the only judicial candidate who ran partially on an "I hate the Dallas
"It can take six months for a diversion program to kick in," he says.
"Here, it's almost instantly. Some veterans start the program before
I've heard the case."
This is thanks, in large part, to the work of Rebecca Hicks of the
Department of Veterans Affairs, who works in Courtroom 1003 Wednesdays
along with Kelley Hodge of the District Attorney's Office, public
defender Brunilda Vargas, and a trio of proud, elegant veteran mentors
sitting in the front bench, waiting to help.
"She's outstanding. I can't commend Rebecca enough for the job she's
doing," Dugan says of the soft-spoken social worker. "She goes to prison
to meet with these people. We're blessed to have her in the room."
Veterans represent a tenth of the jail population, according to the VA,
the majority charged with nonviolent offenses. All legal and government
entities present in the courtroom share the same goals: to get these men
help before they seriously hurt others, while keeping them out of jail.
Veterans Court is also there to help defendants from slipping further
and becoming homeless. A third of all men on the street are believed to
have served in the military, according to the National Coalition for
"The majority of our veterans are really grateful," says Hicks. The
Philadelphia office assists 60,000 veterans annually, a third of them
for behavioral health issues, and drug and alcohol abuse. "We're trying
to turn a negative set of circumstances into a positive, life-changing
experience. I see the veterans as quickly as I can after their first
hearing. Sometimes, the very next day." After each case, Hicks beckons
the veteran to her table and in her old-fashioned daybook schedules an
"Obviously, we're in favor of any program that aids our clients," says
Assistant Public Defender Charles Cunningham. "We certainly think people
who have served our country are entitled to some special consideration.
Sometimes the reason they're in this position is because of service to
Veterans Court is able "to provide therapeutic assistance while reducing
the risk of recidivism," says Hodge, who is chief of the district
attorney's Municipal Court unit. "How an individual does with treatment
dictates whether he 'graduates' out of the system. What benefit is it to
us if he goes into jail and serves his time but is never treated for
One Navy veteran, 54, returns to court after his third DUI offense and
detox treatment at the VA's Coatesville facility. "I've been in trouble
with alcohol all my life. You've saved my life," he tells the court, the
public defender requesting that his name not be published. "My life was
going right down the drain. You're giving me the tools to get my life
back. Hospitalization is the best thing that could happen to me."
Dugan addresses three defendants, all charged with DUI. "This is like
shooting a gun into a crowd. I've read your files and, between you guys,
the places you saw, the things that you've done, the ribbons you have,
you've done so much," he says.
"You guys are the good guys. I expect more of you," Dugan says. "So
don't be coming back into my courtroom because I'll hold you to a higher
standard. And I will hammer you. And you would expect that of me."
All three defendants stand at military attention, nodding their heads in
Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or
Karen Heller: Veterans Court winning cases
sounds like a good program hopefully a few bad apples won't mess it up for all of the men and women who will also need a little help along their way to adjust to "home life again" some people do not understand sometimes veterans just need a friendly kick in the azz to remind them of who and what they were and can be again. All they need is a chance
Friday, May 28, 2010