Login NowClose 
Sign In to newsexaminer.com           
Forgot Password
or if you have not registered since 8/22/18
Click Here to Create an Account

Judges looking at veterans court

1 / 2
2 / 2

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Fayette County is in the process of implementing drug court and local judges are looking at the possibility of setting up a veterans court.

“That is something Paul (Freed, Fayette Superior Court judge) and I have talked about trying to get going here but it’s really, really early in the game,” Fayette Circuit Court Judge Hubert Branstetter Jr. said. “We want to get drug court going first.”

Drug court has started in Superior Court, with the first court session on Sept. 27.

As the judges investigate the possibilities of implementing the veterans court, they can look to Franklin County and the Southeastern Indiana Veterans Treatment Court as an example.

Franklin County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chris Huerkamp said Dearborn Superior Court I Judge Jonathan Cleary contacted Franklin Circuit Court Judge Clay Kellerman to let him know there is a mechanism in state law to provide special methods of handling certain veteran cases.

According to the state code, “the court is a problem-solving court focused on addressing the needs of veterans in the court system by bringing together substance abuse rehabilitation professionals, mental health professionals, local social programs and intensive judicial monitoring and linking eligible veterans to individually-tailored programs or services.”

Veterans would have had to commit a non-violent crime, generally a drug or alcohol related case. The program is a minimum of one year followed by one year of probation.

The SEIVTC is a collaboration of the courts, prosecutors, Court Services Department, public defenders, law enforcement and the Cincinnati Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Franklin County has not had a veteran ask to be entered into the program yet so the details are still vague, Huerkamp said. The defendant would have to enter a plea agreement as step one to take responsibility for the crime. If the judge approves the agreement, then there is leeway for moving forward.

The person would be found guilty but the sentencing delayed while the process begins. If the defendant did all they are asked in the agreement, received the help they need and have the tools to move forward, then a felony charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor or a misdemeanor could be dismissed, he said. If they do not complete the process, then they serve the sentence.

“It is coercive but in my experience, people have a better chance to respond to that,” he said.

Veterans are special to Huerkamp. Both of his grandfathers served in World War II and his father served in the Marines.

He recalled a case in 2008 when he served in the prosecutor’s office in Hamilton County, Ohio. Two Army Rangers had returned from Afghanistan and stayed at the Veterans Administration facility in northern Kentucky. They got into trouble. As the case moved through the legal system, it opened his eyes to the special needs of veterans who saw bad things in combat.

“These guys have already done enough for us,” he said. If you’ve made the sacrifice and had to encounter what some of these have for all of us, I think you should be looked at in a little bit different way. If we can get them help, we’ve got to try.”

The state is leaning toward more problem-solving courts, Branstetter said.

There are options in state code for Community Court, Domestic Violence Court, Family Dependency Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Re-entry Court, a general Problem-Solving Court as well as the Drug and Veteran courts.

“With the way the state is going with problem-solving courts, and with us starting Drug Court, for me personally I really want to look at it,” he said. “It is really hard to look at veterans come through court, with all they have done for us, for us not to do everything we can for them.”