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Judges see more cases that involve veterans

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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."

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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