Good, bad and somewhere in between. That’s what you can find during a typical Veterans Treatment Court session.
The Milwaukee County court meets once a week. The judge, court coordinator, attorneys and others will confer for a few hours in the morning before the Veterans appear before the judge.
When they do, there is an amiable, if no-nonsense, atmosphere. While not as rigid and impersonal as typical court proceedings, it is still a court, and defendants must answer to the attorneys and judge.
But one of the advantages of Veterans Treatment Court is its more personal connections, as the judge interacts with the Veterans numerous times as they progress through the program.
“The most rewarding aspects of this type of program is being able to truly get to know the defendants,” said Judge Cynthia Davis, who oversees Milwaukee County’s Veterans Treatment Court. “You get to develop that connection. It’s something as a judge that is very rewarding.”
Here’s a look at a recent court session, conducted virtually due to pandemic restrictions. (Initials are used for the defendants to protect their privacy):
MM, who has been in VTC for about two years, appears confident, if a little frazzled, as he faces Judge Davis.
He says his job has become more demanding and a new baby is straining his family life as well.
“It can get a little emotional at times. Sometimes I feel helpless but I’m working through that. A new program at VA is helping me tackle the stress and grief.”
Davis tells MM she’s impressed with the progress he’s made. Her only concern is some missed drug tests. MM is contrite, saying it is sometimes difficult to get to a testing site in time.
“I feel ashamed about those misses. I didn’t miss on purpose. I will have to adapt and adjust.” Davis offers a vote of confidence by setting a graduation date three months hence for MM, as long as he sticks to the plan.
Due to graduate
MJ is very close to graduation. All he needs to do is complete his community service requirement.
After he and Davis chat about his new residence at a Veterans home, she sets his graduation date for the next month.
“It sounds great!” MJ exclaims. “We look forward to celebrating with you,” Davis says.
The first thing TH tells Davis is that he’s “perturbed” with himself for not getting enrolled in a VA class and missing a drug test.
However, Davis lauds him for getting the test the next day and reminds him of the importance of sticking with the program.
“Seems like you are on the path to wrapping things up,” Davis says, setting TH’s next court date three weeks hence. “We’ll check in at that point.”
“I’ve come this far; a little bit longer is not going to be too much of a problem,” TH says.
Struggling, but committed
When Davis asks how he is doing, KS says, “OK,” but goes on to list a litany of problems involving his phone, transportation and canceled checks.
He admits he’s not living where he should be and struggling with drug withdrawal.
“I’m very concerned about what’s going on the last 2½ weeks,” Davis says. “I think there are a lot of details you’re leaving out. To be frank with you, if these were normal times, you’d probably be serving a sanction right now.”
Davis tells KS she wants to see him the following week and tells him to write an essay about what has transpired over the past few weeks.
“There are things that need to happen between now and next week,” she says.
“I will do that,” KS says.