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City considers creating veterans court

Greenville Herald-Banner - 5/19/2018

May 19--Greenville city officials are looking into what it takes to create a veterans court in Hunt County in response to a request made by Councilmember John Turner.

At the last regular city council meeting, Turner said he felt a need for the service in the county, noting that Collin County has its own veterans court.

Turner is also the commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Hunt County.

"I think too many of our veterans are getting a less than exacting deal from the courts," Turner told the Herald-Banner in an e-mail. "Not to say that our justice (system) is not fair, I just think all facets are not being correctly represented, and things are not being brought to the forefront enough."

The veterans court program, which was first introduced in 2008, puts into consideration the service of a current or former member of the U.S. Armed Forces when deliberating cases in which the defendant has a history of military service.

For a case to be considered under the court's rules, the defendant must be a retired or current member of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Reserves, National Guard and State Guard.

Defendants also have to show that their conduct was "materially" affected by their military service.

The North Texas Regional Veterans Court program began in 2016 and brought five different counties under its jurisdiction.

Collin, Fannin, Grayson, Kaufman and Rockwall Counties are participants in the program. Judge John Roach of the 296th District in Collin County, a retired Marine, presides over the veterans court docket.

In the North Texas program, the county district attorney must first make a recommendation and submit an application for a case to be considered for veterans court.

The defendant is then put before a panel that decides whether or not the case is eligible.

If accepted, defendants plead guilty to their charges and their case is taken up by the veterans court.

Upon successfully completing what is mandated by the judge, defendants can have their relevant criminal records expunged.

Don Hoover, an assistant prosecutor in Fannin County, said the program is not a "get out of jail free" card.

He sits on the panel that determines whether or not a case should be considered in veterans court.

"(Defendants) have to demonstrate a commitment to wanting to help themselves," Hoover said.

He said his county, with an estimated population of 35,000, has not been subject to extra financial burden to support its participation in the veterans program.

Hoover, a retired member of the U.S. Marines, said the program helps show former and current members of the U.S. military that their community is looking to do its best to help them successfully return to civilian life.

"It demonstrates a county's commitment to the U.S. Armed Forces and demonstrates a community's appreciation for what we've trained these young men and women to do for us," Hoover said.

Hunt County District Attorney Noble Walker told the Herald-Banner his office was approached about joining the program when it was first put together, but decided against it, in part, due to a lack of necessary resources.

"At the time, it wasn't going to work for us, because we really didn't feel like we had sufficient manpower to justify being a part of that program when we were not getting large numbers of veterans cases," Walker said.

Though his office does not have an official veterans program in place, Walker said the county takes careful account of all cases in which an individual's military service is brought up.

"We're loaded up with military veterans who are current or former military, so it's something we take very seriously at the district attorney's office," Walker said.

At the time of the interview, Walker said he has not had any recent communication with city or county officials about starting up or joining an existing veterans court program.

He said he would be interested in looking into the steps that it would take for the county to do so, now that he feels that his office can handle the extra workload.

"I actually think it's a great idea," Walker said. "I do think that some of the veterans that come back are facing issues that most of us don't understand or are not really aware of."

City council members are scheduled to discuss the process of starting a veterans court during the work session of their next regular meeting, May 22.


(c)2018 The Herald Banner (Greenville, Texas)

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