ILNews

Judges see more cases that involve veterans

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

For a little more than a year, Grant Superior Judge Mark Spitzer has presided over his local drug court and has witnessed what he describes as remarkable results from the problem-solving court model.

But even with that success, the judge recognizes there's a need that isn't being met.

An increasing number of soldiers returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are coming to court with a special set of problems, and Judge Spitzer wants to embrace a concept that's gaining steam throughout the country and is being considered by the Indiana General Assembly.

He's interested in the concept of veterans courts, which would operate much in the same way the state's drug, re-entry, and mental-health courts currently do, and pending expand the statutory framework to include the veterans court option.

"We're only going to see more and more of this as veterans come back from being deployed oversees and get tangled up in the criminal justice system," Judge Spitzer said. "Their issues are different from what you'd see on a regular drug and court docket or in a regular courtroom, and so we need to be in a position to address the issues that are causing this to happen."

Growing trend

About two million men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. While there are no comprehensive statistics about how often veterans get into trouble with the law, the criminal justice system is being blanketed with veteran-specific issues more often. Psychiatrists and law enforcement officials agree that the traumas of combat can lead to addiction and criminality, and that's fueling the push for more specialized courts.

The first full-fledged specialty court like this came in New York in January 2008 when Buffalo City Judge Robert Russell opened a court aimed at keeping veterans who are nonviolent offenders out of jail. His program pairs veterans guilty of nonviolent felony or misdemeanor offenses with volunteer veteran mentors, requiring them to adhere to a strict schedule of rehabilitation programs and court appearances.

That judge's idea has since inspired about a dozen other communities nationwide to set up similar courts, which in turn prompted several states to pass or consider laws aimed at encouraging the creation of veterans courts. Congress is also considering legislation that would set up federal funding for these courts, as long as certain standards are met.

Indiana's interest

At the moment, Indiana has about 35 drug and re-entry courts that have a statutory framework and certification process, according to the Indiana Judicial Center. Indiana is unique because it certifies its state statute-established problemsolving courts, while other jurisdictions have standards but aren't implementing a certification process. To get certified, an interested court must go through a review process with the Indiana Judicial Center. The judge, court coordinator, and staff are interviewed, and then the state will determine if the applicant meets the requirements set out in Indiana Code §12-23-14.5. Facilities, personnel, fiscal and general management, and courtroom observation are all part of the process.

That's what the state is working to expand.

House Bill 1271 would not only add veterans courts to the mix but also allow for statutory teeth involving courts focused on domestic violence, family drug dependency, and local community issues, as well as any other areas the Indiana Judicial Center might later determine is necessary. Similar legislation proposed in 2009 failed, but this time it's passed the midway point of the legislative process. The full House voted unanimously to send it on, and the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to discuss the bill Feb. 17.

That's good news for jurists, attorneys, and veterans affairs advocates throughout the state who want to set up their own problem-solving courts to address these issues.

For Judge Spitzer in Grant County, he hopes the legislation allows him to create a separate court docket for veterans who are now merged into the drug court he's run since October 2008. Presiding over that court, the judge began noticing veterans appearing on his docket and more frequently saw post-traumatic stress or service-connected issues arise.

As a result, he began discussing options to address those litigants' issues with officials at the Veterans Administration Northern Indiana Health Care System - Marion campus; the court officially partnered with the hospital in May 2009. The hospital director sits in on the drug-court staffing meetings every Thursday to offer updates about what services have been offered and are available to veterans. Through the partnership, Judge Spitzer's court is able to hook litigants up with veteran benefits resources and vocational rehabilitation if needed. When someone first enters the local system, they are asked about any service history as a way to screen those who might be in need of those services, Judge Spitzer said.

"A lot of people just hadn't realized they had access to those services as veterans, and maybe that connection can keep them out of the criminal justice system down the road," he said.

Judge Spitzer hopes that attorneys will also more carefully screen clients, determining at the onset if they have any military service history and possibly using that to find a way to best assist someone.

Marion Superior Judge Jose Salinas is also interested in the idea, as his drug and re-entry court programs currently have about four people who have been weaved into that process. That court works with the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis to offer much of the same resources to litigant veterans that are available in Grant County. With the pending legislation, his court would be able to start a new docket specifically devoted to those cases, according to program coordinator Jeff Yanis. Case managers would likely be brought on if the funding was available, and having the statutory framework makes federal grant money more possible, he said.

In Porter County, Superior Judge Julia Jent is spearheading a local effort to establish a veterans court and is already working to setup that structure. That program is in its infancy but is growing stronger, said deputy prosecutor Adam Burroughs, who is assigned to the drug court and working on this initiative.

A VA services officer has started working in that county courthouse in the past year, and that person is now working with the court to weave veterans' issues into the drug court in which Judge Jent presides.

"We have a heavy population of young veterans here, and the things we're seeing once they return is quite disturbing," Burroughs said. "We're seeing men and women come back from deployment with these alcohol and drug issues that never would have allowed them to get into any form of public service before. They didn't leave us behaving this way, so something happened there.

"Hopefully, we can find out what's happening and find a way to help them before it's too late. We don't want to lose them in the public or private sector, or to prisons. ... We can save these people who've served their country. We owe them that."

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. OK, take notice. Those wondering just how corrupt the Indiana system is can see the picture in this post. Attorney Donald James did not criticize any judges, he merely, it would seem, caused some clients to file against him and then ignored his own defense. James thus disrespected the system via ignoring all and was also ordered to reimburse the commission $525.88 for the costs of prosecuting the first case against him. Yes, nearly $526 for all the costs, the state having proved it all. Ouch, right? Now consider whistleblower and constitutionalist and citizen journalist Paul Ogden who criticized a judge, defended himself in such a professional fashion as to have half the case against him thrown out by the ISC and was then handed a career ending $10,000 bill as "half the costs" of the state crucifying him. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/ogden-quitting-law-citing-high-disciplinary-fine/PARAMS/article/35323 THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE for any who have ears to hear ... resist Star Chamber and pay with your career ... welcome to the Indiana system of (cough) justice.

  2. GMA Ranger, I, too, was warned against posting on how the Ind govt was attempting to destroy me professionally, and visit great costs and even destitution upon my family through their processing. No doubt the discussion in Indy today is likely how to ban me from this site (I expect I soon will be), just as they have banned me from emailing them at the BLE and Office of Bar Admission and ADA coordinator -- or, if that fails, whether they can file a complaint against my Kansas or SCOTUS law license for telling just how they operate and offering all of my files over the past decade to any of good will. The elitist insiders running the Hoosier social control mechanisms realize that knowledge and a unified response will be the end of their unjust reign. They fear exposure and accountability. I was banned for life from the Indiana bar for questioning government processing, that is, for being a whistleblower. Hoosier whistleblowers suffer much. I have no doubt, Gma Ranger, of what you report. They fear us, but realize as long as they keep us in fear of them, they can control us. Kinda like the kids' show Ants. Tyrannical governments the world over are being shaken by empowered citizens. Hoosiers dealing with The Capitol are often dealing with tyranny. Time to rise up: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/17/governments-struggling-to-retain-trust-of-citizens-global-survey-finds Back to the Founders! MAGA!

  3. Science is showing us the root of addiction is the lack of connection (with people). Criminalizing people who are lonely is a gross misinterpretation of what data is revealing and the approach we must take to combat mental health. Harsher crimes from drug dealers? where there is a demand there is a market, so make it legal and encourage these citizens to be functioning members of a society with competitive market opportunities. Legalize are "drugs" and quit wasting tax payer dollars on frivolous incarceration. The system is destroying lives and doing it in the name of privatized profits. To demonize loneliness and destroy lives in the land of opportunity is not freedom.

  4. Good luck, but as I have documented in three Hail Mary's to the SCOTUS, two applications (2007 & 2013),a civil rights suit and my own kicked-to-the-curb prayer for mandamus. all supported in detailed affidavits with full legal briefing (never considered), the ISC knows that the BLE operates "above the law" (i.e. unconstitutionally) and does not give a damn. In fact, that is how it was designed to control the lawyers. IU Law Prof. Patrick Baude blew the whistle while he was Ind Bar Examiner President back in 1993, even he was shut down. It is a masonic system that blackballs those whom the elite disdain. Here is the basic thrust:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackballing When I asked why I was initially denied, the court's foremost jester wrote back that the ten examiners all voted, and I did not gain the needed votes for approval (whatever that is, probably ten) and thus I was not in .. nothing written, no explanation, just go away or appeal ... and if you appeal and disagree with their system .. proof positive you lack character and fitness. It is both arbitrary and capricious by its very design. The Hoosier legal elites are monarchical minded, and rejected me for life for ostensibly failing to sufficiently respect man's law (due to my stated regard for God's law -- which they questioned me on, after remanding me for a psych eval for holding such Higher Law beliefs) while breaking their own rules, breaking federal statutory law, and violating federal and state constitutions and ancient due process standards .. all well documented as they "processed me" over many years.... yes years ... they have few standards that they will not bulldoze to get to the end desired. And the ISC knows this, and they keep it in play. So sad, And the fed courts refuse to do anything, and so the blackballing show goes on ... it is the Indy way. My final experience here: https://www.scribd.com/document/299040062/Brown-ind-Bar-memo-Pet-cert I will open my files to anyone interested in seeing justice dawn over Indy. My cases are an open book, just ask.

  5. Looks like 2017 will be another notable year for these cases. I have a Grandson involved in a CHINS case that should never have been. He and the whole family are being held hostage by CPS and the 'current mood' of the CPS caseworker. If the parents disagree with a decision, they are penalized. I, along with other were posting on Jasper County Online News, but all were quickly warned to remove posts. I totally understand that some children need these services, but in this case, it was mistakes, covered by coorcement of father to sign papers, lies and cover-ups. The most astonishing thing was within 2 weeks of this child being placed with CPS, a private adoption agency was asking questions regarding child's family in the area. I believe a photo that was taken by CPS manager at the very onset during the CHINS co-ocerment and the intent was to make money. I have even been warned not to post or speak to anyone regarding this case. Parents have completed all requirements, met foster parents, get visitation 2 days a week, and still the next court date is all the way out till May 1, which gives them(CPS) plenty of to time make further demands (which I expect) No trust of these 'seasoned' case managers, as I have already learned too much about their dirty little tricks. If they discover that I have posted here, I expect they will not be happy and penalized parents again. Still a Hostage.

ADVERTISEMENT