With combat duty in Vietnam under his belt, Madison County Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr. knows veterans often have special issues when it comes to drugs and mental illness. Soon, many of them may be getting his special judicial help.
Taking a page from a similar program launched a year ago in New York, court administrators in this suburban St. Louis county plan to launch within weeks a new court designed to deal only with military veterans charged with nonviolent crimes.
The mission: Divert many of the veterans from the criminal courts to a program that, much like popular drug courts, will offer them treatment for underlying issues, perhaps sparing them a criminal conviction if they successfully complete the treatment.
"There are a lot of services out there; one thing the court will be able to do is get them connected" with veterans, ideally keeping them from becoming repeat offenders, Ann Callis, the county's chief judge, said Monday.
Veterans' participation in the new court will be voluntary and Callis said it will be staffed by veterans from virtually every branch of the military. The prosecutor will be former Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Stewart, the public defender former Navy Lt. Tyler Bateman — officials Callis hopes will have a better understanding of veterans' issues.
Callis said she hoped the veterans' court would be under way by the end of next month or early March, with no immediate expectations about how many veterans might take part.
No additional funding would be required for the court, and Madison County Bar Association lawyers will donate their services, Callis said. "Since we're not asking for any money and it's based on the spirit of volunteerism, we figured why don't we just give it a shot?" she said.