Brown County Judge Paul Lilly said he hopes to create a veterans docket call, rather than a separate veterans court, to handle veterans who claim post traumatic stress disorder as an issue when charged with misdemeanor offenses.
Addressing the media in his office Monday, Lilly said he had believed, while campaigning in 2018, that the need for a veterans court was “monumental.” Lilly said he doesn’t think the numbers reflect that need, but stressed he still wants to help veterans.
“I just want to follow up on a campaign promise I made before I was elected,” Lilly said. “I probably get asked more about that, as I circulate around the county, than just about anything else. Based on the information that I can see so far — and I didn’t know this until I got into office — I don’t see that we have a need for a separate free standing veterans court.
“Our local government code says if the commissioners so choose, they can create a whole new veterans court with its own presiding judge. I don’t necessarily think we need that, but I still see a need to help our veterans.”
Lilly said he has asked the attorney general’s office for feedback on his idea of creating a veterans docket call. “As soon as I hear back from them I’ll brief the commissioners on what I plan on doing, and take it each step at a time so that there’s a good line of communication,” Lilly said.
Brown County has a large veteran population, and while some of them do get in trouble, it’s not all related to PTSD issues, Lilly said. He gave an example of a veteran being arrested for public intoxication. Unless the veteran “can connect it to some sort of war-related disability, then he gets treated just like everybody else,” Lilly said.
Lilly explained how a veterans docket — which he said would be scheduled as needed — would typically operate.
Lilly said he would send letters to defense attorneys informing them “If you have a client that is claiming PTSD was a direct cause of his criminal offense, or potential criminal offense, if it’s a misdemeanor — all I control is misdemeanors — they can request that it be scheduled during a veterans docket,” Lilly said.
During a typical veterans docket call, Lilly said, representatives of the probation department and Center for Life Resources could be present. The defense attorney and county attorney would work out a plea bargain.
“That way they’re still getting that service, we’re all still coming together, but it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime because it will still be in my court,” Lilly said. “It’s not a whole separate court where you have to hire a separate judge. I would do it for what the taxpayers are already paying me and we’re able to give something back to our veterans and make sure that they’re taken care of.”
Lilly said a veterans court, had one been created, would not “excuse any type of criminal behavior.” The court would be intended for veterans who claim issues related to post traumatic stress disorder as a result of combat or other military- connected disability, Lilly said.
Representatives of Center for Life Resources, the Veterans Administration and probation would be present with the county attorney and defense attorney to discuss “what’s the most appropriate punishment, or corrective action, I should say, that’s going to help that veteran deal with the consequences of the crime they’ve potentially committed but also the ongoing issues of PTSD,” Lilly said.
“Before I took office, when I was out campaigning, it seemed like it was a monumental issue. Everywhere I went, and at every one of the debates, I was asked ‘would you be receptive to a veterans court.’ When you create a veterans court you have to hire a new judge, you have to hire staff, it takes start-up money.”
Creating a veterans docket call rather than a separate veterans court is “a way around having to have any start-up money,” Lilly said. “But I still think we can reach out and help our veterans.”
Lilly said he doesn’t want helping veterans “to fall by the wayside just because we don’t have the numbers. Now we have plenty of veterans here but thank goodness our veterans aren’t having that many problems.”
Lilly said he’s trying to find out if any other Texas counties have veterans docket calls.
“A whole lot of things still have to come together,” Lilly said. “I’ve still got lots of ’ ’ ‘T’s’ to cross and ‘I’s’ to dot before I announce a starting date. So far I haven’t found anybody that does this so I’m starting from scratch. But I think it’ll work.”