SAN DIEGO: First County Veterans Court Date Set

Post date: Mar 9, 2011 4:59:55 PM

North County Times - The Californian | Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011

San Diego County finally has a veterans court.

With a stroke of his pen Wednesday, Superior Court presiding Judge Kevin Enright approved what's technically known as the Veterans Treatment Review Calendar, a pilot program born of years of planning and consensus building.

The first cases are set for Feb. 4 in San Diego before Judge Roger W. Krauel, a Vietnam veteran who spent 35 years in uniform. A San Diego judge since 199l, Krauel will spend one day a week concentrating on veterans' cases from across the county.

"It is another positive step to addressing a real problem in our community," Krauel said of the voluntary program that primarily targets Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or substance abuse issues who run afoul of the law.

"This pilot will help us start sorting out the best ways to serve the public safety while bringing veterans who have offended back into the law-abiding community," said Krauel.

The county and its estimated 235,000 veterans will now join Santa Ana, Tulsa, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and dozens of places nationwide running courts focused on rehabilitating veterans through aggressive case management instead of jailing them.

The largest numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans anywhere in the country live in San Diego County, an estimated 30,000.

In recent years, increasing numbers of them have landed in county jails for what's been described as "impulse crimes" such as drunk driving, spouse and child abuse, barroom brawls and resisting arrest.

So many, in fact, that San Diego County now has upwards of 150 young veterans enmeshed in the criminal justice system and another 400 of all ages either in jail or facing charges.

San Diego attorney Jude Litzenberger has co-chaired the legal task force to establish the veteran diversion program since 2007. She said the calendar is good news for veterans and the public alike.

"Right now, the judges are seeing veterans in a number of San Diego County courtrooms," she said. "This is a good opportunity to consolidate those cases in order to do the kind of monitoring and mentoring that's been shown to both remove veterans from criminality while ensuring a safer community.

"If you send someone to DUI school when they need to go to PTSD counseling, you are doing a disservice to both the veteran and the public."

Litzenberger said the pending veterans treatment program won't be easy, but if successfully completed, it could wipe the slate clean for troubled veterans.

Take driving under the influence of alcohol, for example. Someone arrested on a first-time DUI can expect to pay $2,000 in fines, draw five years of unsupervised probation, attend 32 hours of alcohol education and agree to take a Breathalyzer test at any time.

Someone admitted into Veterans Treatment Review Calendar must comply with all of the above, plus undergo exposure therapy for PTSD, agree to drug and alcohol testing and have regular contact with a probation officer.

Buffalo Judge Robert Russell started the first veterans' court in January 2008. A hybrid of existing specialty courts such as domestic violence court, mental health court and drug court veterans' court has been a striking success.

Of 120 veterans enrolled in Russell's program, 90 percent successfully completed the program and the recidivism rate is zero.

Below are key provisions of the Veterans Treatment Review Calendar:

A defendant will be assigned to the VTRC based on the recommendations of the prosecutor and defense lawyer, and supporting information from the probation department and agencies providing assessment and treatment.

All of the programs of the San Diego Court are open to defendants who are on active duty, including the VTRC. In certain circumstances, military procedures allow for military sanctions to be imposed in addition to whatever a civilian court does. Where there is military jurisdiction over a crime, it is up to the prosecutor whether a case is also filed in state court.

The VTRC will have the power to review cases already adjudicated. To do this, attorneys would make a joint recommendation to the criminal court judge conducting the probation hearing and sentencing of the defendant; or to the judge reviewing, post-sentence, the performance of probation.

Defense attorneys interested in the new program should contact Litzenberger at Put "VTRC Inquiry" in the subject line for a faster response.