New San Francisco court program helps military veterans


Judge Braden Woods will run the pilot court program. The crimes range from misdemeanors to non-violent felonies. The defendants have one thing in common -- they're all veterans.

Presiding Judge Cynthia Lee was the driving force behind veterans court, "It's an opportunity to give them and to give the court a different way to reintegrate them into the community," she said.

It's a collaborative effort between the court and the Veterans Administration. Elizabeth Brett will be the VA's liaison.

"The focus in a court like this is on treatment and connecting veterans to treatment," Brett said.

And that's the key. It works like a medical triage. Not only are there VA counselors, there are prosecutors, public defenders, and probation officers all trying to create a supportive environment, not the contentious one which often exists in regular courts.

Defendants like Richard Davis are applauded when they do well with their treatment program. Davis is an Army infantry veteran who was arrested on drug charges. He believes this court will help others like him go straight.

"They just have demons that they have to work through themselves and this court gives you that opportunity," Davis said.

Make no mistake, Judge Woods will be tough when defendants stray. But there's a lot of encouragement, too. And a lot of straight talk.

Deputy public defender Brian Pearlman says that this collaborative approach seems to work well with veterans.

"I think with veterans, they have a multitude of issues dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress, dealing with drug issues," Pearlman said.

The addition of a veterans court comes at a time when the courts in general are struggling financially. Their budgets have been slashed.

But Judge Lee says she's been able to find the resources necessary to make this program work because it's a priority.

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