Updated Sun, May 11, 2014 7:35 am
An Athens County Common Pleas Court judge is considering bringing a specialized court to the area after meeting with other justice system officials in Columbus.
After a recent hearing involving a military veteran, Judge George McCarthy heard about the existence of Veterans Court, a specialized court created to help current service members or those that have received an honorable discharge address their court cases.
He attended a round table discussion at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, where those who already have veterans courts in place and those looking to start one could meet and discuss best practices.
“One of the things I learned at (the meeting) was you would be surprised how many veterans come through the court system,” McCarthy said.
Through his work as a common pleas judge, McCarthy said he has done his own “self-screening” of offenders and said most individuals he has seen who have had military service have certain mannerisms and ways they address the court that make them stand out.
“They are respectful in a military way, how they speak to me, how they answer questions, that’s the way they stand out,” McCarthy said.
The veterans court would focus on getting veterans help with substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues or other situations that led them to commit crime.
There is an eligibility process that service members and veterans would have to go through to get into Veterans Court, McCarthy said. After being deemed eligible, the individuals will have access to specialists through the court who will be able to help in their specific cases.
“It would take the participation of the community and all the treatment facilities to get it going,” McCarthy said. “But if we’re sending (offenders) to (specialists) anyway, I suspect they’ll want to be involved with this.”
The judge has spoken with Adult Parole Authority and Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn about the project and he believes other agencies will want to come on board.
The program can also be run without incurring extra costs onto the court system which is already on a “shoestring budget,” according to McCarthy.
“I was encouraged that some of the places (that currently have veterans courts), including the common pleas courts, were running it without any extra cost,” McCarthy said.
In order to get a veterans court in Athens County, the program would have to be certified by the Ohio Supreme Court. Most officials that McCarthy heard from at the Columbus meeting said it took about a year to bring the court to fruition.
Though there are only a handful of the courts in Ohio, McCarthy wants to see what he can do to get the court in Athens County, and hopefully help more people who have resorted to crime after coming out of the military.
“I really think it’s worthwhile,” McCarthy said. “I’m very hopeful.”