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Frederick County offers money for start-up court for offending veterans

Frederick News-Post - 4/28/2017

April 28--The county has green-lighted funding to help with a recently created court that is specifically designed to work with veterans.

The Frederick County Council earlier this month unanimously approved paying $28,500 to Service Coordination, a local case management organization, for its work on starting up the court, such as attending meetings.

Judge Scott Rolle began holding a veterans court docket on Oct. 26, 2016. About three weeks ago, he said, the court submitted a final application to the Administrative Office of the Courts to be officially recognized as a specialty court.

Because the veterans court is not official at the state level, Maryland cannot provide funding for the planning work, according to a written proposal from Circuit Court Administrator Judy Lohman. The fiscal 2017 court budget couldn't absorb the costs, Lohman continued, so the court asked the county for assistance.

With approval pending, it is unclear whether the court will need to hire someone to help manage the docket, Lohman said.

Rolle, in coordination with County Council President Bud Otis, aimed to address the specific needs of veterans with the specialty court.

"When I was in private practice, I was often in court watching judges struggle with what to do with certain people that were coming in front of them that were veterans," Rolle told the council earlier this month.

He said he had one client with a service-related head injury that ultimately led him to get in trouble with the law. Through that case, he said, he learned about different resources for veterans facing charges.

The court meets on the last Wednesday of each month and currently has eight participants, according to Rolle. A ninth veteran was admitted into veterans court but decided to go through the traditional court system instead.

Because the program is new, there haven't been any graduates yet.

Rolle, a veteran himself, said the program strives to be a way to reinstate military discipline and values in low-level offenders. The program is difficult, he continued, but it allows veterans to avoid having a conviction on their record if they complete it.

When a candidate for veterans court wants to enter the program, prosecutors, the defense lawyer and probation agent meet with Rolle to discuss the case.

They will go over the accused's military record, including any awards received, and determine if the veteran has ever been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which allows the people involved in the case to come up with a personalized strategy designed to keep the veteran from reoffending.

"We come up with a plan of action for them," he said.

Veterans in the program are assigned a mentor and report to a probation agent who handles veterans court cases.

"It is not coddling by any stretch," Rolle said. "They're very determined and they want to do it."

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiLoos.

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(c)2017 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

Visit The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) at www.fredericknewspost.com

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