Veterans Court to come to Washington County

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ST GEORGE -- A new court program in Washington County aims to assist veterans get professional help and avoid jail time.

Judges, attorneys and veteran advocates are finalizing the details on a veterans court. It would work similar to other specialized courts.

This court would help those who served the United States get a second chance after suffering from traumatic stress.

“There are veterans courts happening in other places and they are seeing tremendous success,” said St. George City Councilwoman Michele Randall. “So why not try it here.”

Randall is on the mayor’s veterans advisory council. She said the idea came from veterans who viewed the court as a way to assist the estimated 10,000 veterans in the area get access to the help they need when they have a run in with the law.

“I don’t think anybody can go into a combat zone and not be touched somewhat by it to some degree,” said Bruce Soloman, readjustment counselor at the St. George Vet Center. “We’re talking about warfare that has no front lines. We want here to create something that works with the judicial system. Law enforcement and veterans, to show veterans that society is responsive.”

The advisory council is still working out what offenses would qualify for the veterans court program, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said it would likely focus on drug and vagrancy charges. The program would be strict rehabilitation in exchange for a clean record.

“it isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card,” Randall said. “In fact, there will be such a regimented series of events that you have to follow, you miss one appointment, you’re going to jail.”

It’s unclear how many people would benefit from a veterans court, that’s not a statistic tracked by the court system. But local attorneys are behind the proposal, saying any system that aims to address the underlying issues of crime is a benefit, not only to the defendants themselves, but also the court system.

“That model will help them,” Belnap said. “Hopefully, overcome the issues that are contributing to their problems in a way that will get them treatment, help them have employment, help them get past whatever the particular issue is that might be hampering them.”

Judges have already agreed to oversee the court. The final details will be worked out in the next couple of weeks and it should be up and running by mid-May.