Special court created to help struggling veterans get through criminal system

Ann Knef Dec. 16, 2008, 8:49am

Madison County is forming a special court to give veterans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction some help in the criminal justice system.

Chief Judge Ann Callis, who announced the program Tuesday, said the new Veterans' Court will only accept non-violent offenders.

Circuit Judge Charmes Romani, chief criminal judge and a Vietnam veteran, will preside over a court assisted by volunteer lawyers from the Madison County Bar Association.

Callis said the court requires no additional funding.

Romani, who was a U.S. Army sergeant, served as a radio operator with the 407th Radio Research Detachment assigned to the 1st and 5th Mechanized Infantry Division in Quang Tri Province along the DMZ.

"The court system needs to provide treatment for mental and/or substance abuse issues for those veterans who need it and are involved in the criminal justice system," Romani said.

"The men and women who have served our country deserve an opportunity to get their lives in order," he said.

Callis said the court is unique in that only a couple of other state courts across the country offer such a program.

The Madison County Veterans' Court also stands out as it will be staffed by veterans who have served in nearly every branch of the armed forces, she said.

Other veterans serving in the court include probation officer Brian Hodge, U.S. Air Force Reserves, and a Desert Storm veteran.

Dennis Baker will serve as a mental health probation officer. He served in the NATO/SHAPE Support Group in Brussels, Belgium during Vietnam as part of the U.S. Army Medical Corp.

Michael Stewart, former Marine corporal, will be the court's prosecutor.

Tyler Bateman, former Naval officer, will be the court's public defender.

The court will also be helped by Dr. Jeremy Jewell, from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, who will look for grants and develop a screening tool for probation.

Point of Light

The new program was announced on the same day the American Tort Reform Foundation issued its annual "Judicial Hellholes" list which placed Madison County on a "watch list," over concerns about the court's rising asbestos docket.

In the report, Callis was praised for implementing reforms which have restored fairness to the court.

"Certainly as chief judge, I believe it is better to be off this type of list, than to be on it," she said. "Our goal as Madison County judges is foremost to serve the people of Madison County to the best of our ability. One way to achieve this goal is to develop innovative programs and policies for our court.

"We really try here," she said.

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