The Wisconsin court system recognizes that veterans in the criminal justice system face unique issues. Developing strategies that will be effective with this population requires commitment, understanding, creativity and a willingness to build partnerships. Courts across Wisconsin are piloting programs designed to provide better, more effective solutions for veterans in the criminal justice system. Here is a brief history of the effort, along with a county-by-county list of programs.
Chief Judge Benjamin D. Proctor (now retired) explains the goals of the Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court at a January 2011 ceremony to open the new court program.
Connecting veterans with services
The courts have an important role in helping to connect Veterans in crisis with information on services to which they are entitled. When a veteran needs housing support, mental health services, treatment for addiction, job training or other help, the court may work with local experts including County Veterans Services Officers (CVSOs) and Tribal Veterans Services Officers. In January 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court's Planning and Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC) began a concerted effort to help connect the state's circuit court judges with these officers to ensure that veterans who find themselves in court are connected with important resources. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs' directory of CVSOs is available at dva.state.wi.us/cvso_list.pdf. The courts also work with Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists (VJOs). The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has asked that each VA medical center designate a VJO to help veterans with case management and serve as liaisons with local justice system partners. In Wisconsin, Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists are available at the VA medical centers in Madison, Milwaukee and Tomah, as well as in bordering states. Current VJOSs are: Edward Zapala (Madison), Abigail Ziebell (Milwaukee), Garrett Hebel (Tomah), Faith Weiss (Minneapolis), Michael Matwyuk (Iron Mountain, Mich.) More information is available on the Department of Veteran's Affairs site (external link).
History of the Wisconsin Veterans Court Initiative
The development of court programs for Wisconsin veterans began when the Office of the State Public Defender and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs received a federal grant in 2008 to bring Judge Robert Russell - who started the nation's first veterans treatment court in Buffalo, N.Y. - to Wisconsin to tell his story. A short time later, a delegation from Wisconsin visited Russell's court in New York.
Soon after that visit, a conference entitled Leave No One Behind: Veterans in the Criminal Justice System was held in June 2009. The Wisconsin court system joined the State Public Defender, Department of Corrections, Department of Justice, Veterans Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs in co-sponsoring the conference, which brought together judges, prosecutors, public defenders, treatment providers and County Veterans Services Officers from across Wisconsin. Participants developed plans for building specialty court programs in the state. More than 100 people at sites in Madison, Milwaukee and Tomah participated.
Since then, 16 court-connected programs covering 33 counties have been developed.
County by county: Court programs for Wisconsin veterans
Brown County: See Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
Chippewa County: See Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court
Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court
In January 2011, the Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court opened in Eau Claire. The court will serve Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties, and will focus on addressing alcohol, drug and mental health issues associated with criminal behavior within the military veteran population. Former Chief Judge Benjamin D. Proctor (now retired) - who was honored as the State Bar Judge of the Year in 2009, in part for his work with veterans - was the first presiding judge in this court. Judge William M. Gabler currently presides.
Veterans in Columbia County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Veterans in Dane County who are charged with criminal offenses are served by the Rock County Veterans Treatment Court Program (see Rock County entry).
Dane County veterans with civil legal problems may receive help through the UW Law School Veterans Law Center, which opened in November 2012. Lawyers, law students and paralegals staff the center, which provides free help with issues such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure, housing issues, unemployment benefits and other civil legal problems. The Law Center serves low-income veterans and their families on a walk-in basis from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Madison's City-County Building (210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., just off the Capitol Square) and from 4-6 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at Porchlight, Inc. (306 N. Brooks St.). Contact: UW Law School Pro Bono Director Ann Zimmerman, (608) 890-3754.
Veterans in Dodge County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Door County: See Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
Dunn County: See Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court
Eau Claire County: See Chippewa Valley Veterans Treatment Court
Veterans in Green County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Veterans in Iowa County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Iron County Veterans Court
In April 2010, Wisconsin opened its second veterans treatment court program. The Iron County Veterans Court operates under the direction of Judge Patrick J. Madden, who has served on the bench for over 25 years. The primary focus is on drug or alcohol related crimes or other misdemeanors. Iron County feels that these types of crimes may be alleviated by addressing the underlying issues unique to veterans. Each veteran in the program is assigned a mentor; the mentor program is managed by County Veterans Services Officer Erick Nasi. Contact: Erick Nasi, Veterans Services Officer, (715) 561-2190.
Veterans in Jefferson County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Kenosha County: See Second Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court
Kewaunee County: See Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
La Crosse County Veterans Court Initiative
On Veterans Day 2010, after more than a year of preparation and planning, the La Crosse County Veterans Court Initiative opened its doors. It was the third program of its kind in Wisconsin. The program focuses on early identification of veterans in the criminal justice system to facilitate connection with available services as quickly as possible. The program also makes use of trained mentors. Presiding is Judge Todd W. Bjerke, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who was first elected to the bench in La Crosse in 2007. Contact: Thom Downer, (608) 790-7368.
Manitowoc County: See Sheboygan Area Veterans Court
Marinette County: See Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
Milwaukee Veterans Program
In Milwaukee County, the Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office, the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office and the Veterans Administration have developed a multi-faceted program to serve veterans involved in the criminal justice system. The Veterans Treatment Initiative officially launched on Dec. 5, 2012, with a veterans court docket scheduled on Wednesday mornings in front of Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn H. Yamahiro, Branch 34, Milwaukee County Courthouse, 901 N. 9th St., Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee program also matches veterans with mentors through a non-profit veterans services group called Dryhootch, LLC. Mentors (who are also veterans) meet with the veteran at and between court appearances to provide peer support services and assist with access to ancillary services. Dryhootch also offers a Family Legal Clinic where veterans and their families can receive free legal advice on non-criminal matters such as divorce, child support, visitation and more. The clinic runs in the evening on the first and second Thursday of each month. For more information, visit the Dryhootch site (external link) or call (414) 763-2785.
Rock County Circuit Court Judge James P. Daley congratulates Casey Johnson of Beloit, Wisconsin's first Veterans Treatment Court graduate. Photo courtesy of the Janesville Gazette
Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
The Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court is a collaborative problem-solving court that opened in March 2012. The program pairs a circuit court judge, representatives of the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefit Administration, the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, veterans service organizations, the U.S. and Wisconsin Departments of Veterans Affairs and many other community partners. It assist veterans who accept responsibility for qualifying felony or misdemeanor offenses committed within a group of counties in northeast Wisconsin (the Eighth Judicial District). The program also offers assistance with treatment, rehabilitation, employment and housing. The court serves Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie and Waupaca counties (Waupaca County also has a stand-alone veterans court program). Contacts: Beau Liegeois, Brown County assistant district attorney, (920) 448-4190; Jerry Polus, Brown County veterans service officer, (920) 448-4451; Tom Hinz, mentor and resource coordinator, (920) 606-2012.
Oconto County: See Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court
Outagamie County Circuit Court Judges John A. Des Jardins and Gregory B. Gill Jr., Outagamie County District Attorney's Office, Wisconsin State Public Defender's Appleton Office, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Outagamie County Sheriff's Department, Outagamie County Veterans' Service Office, Outagamie County Volunteers in Offender Services Office, and the John Bradley VA Outpatient Clinic. The mission of the Outagamie County Veterans Court is to promote public safety, and assist and support veterans and their families by creating a coordinated response through collaboration with the veteran's service delivery system, community-based services, and the criminal justice system.
Each veteran is paired with a mentor from the same branch of service, who understands and supports the veteran court requirements, and assists the veteran in complying to make progress and achieve success. The focus of the Veteran's Mentoring Program is to support the veterans through their readjustment to civilian life, to assist the veteran navigate through the court, treatment and VA systems, to act as a friend, mentor, advocate, and ally through this difficult period, and to ensure that no veteran is left behind.
Outagamie County also takes referral from surrounding counties. Contact: Annie Levknecht, Alternative Treatment Coordinator (920) 832-5098.
Ozaukee County: See Sheboygan Area Veterans Court
Pierce County Veterans Court
The Pierce County Veterans Court is a post-plea program dealing with both felonies and misdemeanors. To qualify for the program, the veteran must be in need of services offered through the local (Twin Cities) VA (for example, services related to drug and alcohol addiction, mental health, anger management). Each applicant is screened by the Vets Court team, which consists of the judge (a U.S. Air Force veteran), an assistant district attorney, a public defender, a probation agent, a law enforcement representative, the court coordinator and a representative of the VA. Once accepted, the veteran goes through a four-phase program with weekly court appearances in Phase 1. The court requires random drug testing and -- if the veteran is able -- work and/or community service. The program also provides participants with mentors. Contacts: Veterans Services Officer Dave Till, (715) 273-6463; Volunteer Coordinator Donna Swanson (715) 273-3226; and Judge Joseph Boles, (715) 273-6460.
Racine County: See Second Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court
Second Judicial District Chief Judge Mary K. Wagner, Kenosha County Circuit Court, swears in the Veterans Treatment Court team, which includes Racine County Circuit Court Judges Gerald P. Ptacek and Michael J. Piontek (far left).
Rock County Veterans Treatment Court Program
In September 2009, Wisconsin opened its first veterans treatment court program. The program operates in Rock County under the direction of Judge James P. Daley, a brigadier general in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who has served on the Rock County Circuit Court for 21 years. The court serves veterans in both Rock and Dane counties who are charged with crimes and who have mental health issues. Each participant is matched with a mentor of similar military background. Prior to participating, each mentor completes a training program. The court has now expanded to accept cases diverted from nearby counties.
Judge Daley and two members of the veterans court team recently explained during a WisconsinEye interview (external link) how the Rock County veterans court operates and why it is significant for veterans and the court system.
Veterans in Rock County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Veterans in Sauk County who need help with civil legal problems such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure and unemployment issues may be eligible for free legal services through the UW Veterans Law Center (see Dane County entry).
Second Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court
The Second Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court serves veterans in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties. The program seeks to divert eligible veterans (veterans with substance dependency and/or mental illness who are charged with felony or misdemeanor non-violent criminal offenses) to a specialized criminal court docket. The court uses a treatment problem- solving model. Eligible veterans are identified through screenings. Participants voluntarily take part in a treatment plan that is supervised by a judge. The plan is developed by a team of court staff, veteran health care professionals, veteran benefit professionals, county veteran service officers, veterans organizations, substance abuse health care professionals and mental health professionals. At regular status hearings, which are held at the Racine County Courthouse, treatment plans and other conditions are periodically reviewed for appropriateness, incentives are offered to reward compliance with court conditions, and sanctions for non-compliance are imposed. Contacts: Andrew Graubard, district court administrator, or David Kagabitang, veterans justice outreach specialist.
Judge L. Edward Stengel, Sheboygan County Circuit Court, swore in members of the county's new veterans court program in August 2012. The group included Judge Angela W. Sutkiewicz, who presides in the court. Photo credit: Sheboygan Press
Sheboygan Area Veterans Court
The Sheboygan Area Veterans Court opened its doors in August 2012 and focuses on helping veterans who are charged with crimes and who have been diagnosed with mental health issues and/or drug or alcohol addictions. Contact: Charlene Cobb, veterans services officer, (920) 459-3053.
Walworth County: See Second Judicial District Veterans Treatment Court
Washington County: See Sheboygan Area Veterans Court
Waupaca County Veterans Assistance Program
In Waupaca County, defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges working with treatment providers at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King have established a legal assistance program for veterans. The program works with law enforcement to emphasize early identification of veterans. Those identified are referred to the Veterans Assistance Program for assessment. In appropriate cases, deferred prosecution agreements are sought to give the veteran a chance to obtain needed services. Legal assistance is provided pro bono through local attorneys. Contacts: Atty. Tom Maroney, (715) 258-5990; Steve House, Veterans Assistance Program, (715) 256-1118.
Statewide programs for veterans in court
Wisconsin Veterans Intervention Program
The Wisconsin Veterans Intervention Program (WI-VIP) is an initiative of the State Public Defender's Office. The program encourages creation of veterans court programs in Wisconsin and supports them once they are established. WI-VIP also works with the Department of Corrections to identify veterans currently in an institution or on probation/parole in order to ensure that each veteran is connected with available services. Contact: Peter Anderson, liaison for WI-VIP in the Wisconsin's State Public Defender's Office, (608) 267-0581.
Legal services for veterans
There are programs to help Wisconsin veterans and active-duty servicemembers who need legal advice. The Marquette University Law School Program, SAVLAW (Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Assistance for Wisconsin) features a website (external link) on which servicemembers can post requests and lawyers can volunteer.
A program called Dryhootch offers a Family Legal Clinic where veterans and their families can receive free legal advice on non-criminal matters such as divorce, child support, visitation and more. The clinic runs in the evening on the first and second Thursday of each month. For more information, visit the Dryhootch site (external link) or call (414) 763-2785.
The American Bar Association Military Pro Bono Project (external link) connects active-duty military personnel to free legal assistance with civil (non-criminal) legal problems. Referrals are made only by military legal assistance (JAG) attorneys.
In Madison, a program to help low-income veterans with civil legal problems was launched in November 2012. The UW Law School Veterans Law Center provides free help with issues such as divorce, child custody, foreclosure, housing issues, unemployment benefits and other civil legal problems. The Law Center serves low-income veterans and their families on a walk-in basis from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Madison's City-County Building (210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., just off the Capitol Square) and from 4-6 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at Porchlight, Inc. (306 N. Brooks St.). Contact: UW Law School Pro Bono Director Ann Zimmerman, (608) 890-3754.
This overview will continually grow and change. We encourage those who have additions and updates to contact us at (608) 266-1298.