Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

News

November 13, 2012

Judge answers call of duty with special court for veterans

New Albany — Floyd County Superior Court Judge Maria Granger is the proud daughter of a retired Marine, sister to a former sailor, and wife and stepmother of soldiers. She answered her call of duty in a different way: By creating a problem-solving court for veterans who find themselves in legal trouble.

Every Monday in her courtroom, young service members who’ve run afoul of the law in returning to civilian life appear in front of Granger to be sentenced to counseling and treatment instead of jail or prison.

Her sentencing conditions are strict — supervision is intense and monitoring is frequent — but they’re handed down with a team of reinforcements that includes volunteer mentors who themselves have survived the experience of war.

It’s an interventionist approach, modeled on veterans treatment courts across the nation, which Granger says honors the guarantee of “restorative justice” found in the Indiana constitution.

It also a labor of love, done in the name of her stepson, Army Sgt. Steven Paul Mennemeyer, a combat medic in the Iraq war killed in the line of duty.

“I was so proud of him,” said Granger. “This is just one of the ways I can honor him.”

The special court, which Granger started in February, is one of four such courts in Indiana launched in partnership with the Veterans Administration and in collaboration with local prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and corrections officials. Two more are in the making.

Their existence is in response to a trend that Granger and other judges have seen in recent years: An increasing number of young service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan showing up in court, charged with relatively small crimes linked to bigger mental health issues, including substance abuse and addiction.

She suspected many were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on by the intense combat they’d witnessed and survived. They were struggling to re-enter civilian life, but too proud or too ill to seek help.

“It can be a very lonely and vast place that they return to when they come back home,” Granger said.

The interventionist approach used by Granger is modeled on drug treatment courts that have been working well for 15 years. They were started by judges willing to intervene in the lives of addicts to get them into treatment and keep them out of crowded courtrooms and prisons.

In researching how to set up an effective program, Granger spent time with Robert Russell, a New York judge who created the first veterans treatment court in 2008. A critical piece of the success of his court, he told her, were the volunteer mentors: Older veterans who’ve suffered and survived trauma and were willing to share what it took to build a better life.

“There is a powerful connection there: vet to vet,” Granger said. “Somebody who knows where they’ve been and what they been through.”

That led Granger to recruit some combat veterans she knew, including Hauser Cantor, 73, and Jon Bernier, 64. Both are retired, successful businessmen active in community service; both are Vietnam veterans who bring understanding and empathy gained from combat injuries suffered to body and mind.

“Maintaining contact with people who’ve been where you’ve been is important,” Bernier said. “It means you can cry and scream and rant and rave and have someone who’ll say, ‘it’s going be okay.’”

Cantor said the role of a mentor is simple: “We tell them: ‘We’re here for you, no matter what.’”

That support is important because the conditions that Granger set down can be tough.

The young veterans who come before her are typically charged with low-level, non-violent crimes that carry relatively short penalties of incarceration.

So some veterans opt just to do their time, rather than go through the alternative she offers: Entry into a substance abuse or mental health treatment program geared specifically for veterans, accompanied by closely monitored compliance and regularly scheduled court hearings, during which participants can be sanctioned for noncompliance.

“I’ve had guys threaten to quit the program,” Cantor said. “It’s too hard, and they just want out. I tell them, ‘Good luck. You can try it on your own, but I guarantee you’ll want back.’”

Granger’s court is in its infancy, so it’s too soon to know if it’ll meet the ultimate goal of keeping of those young veterans from coming back to court.

But Cantor and Bernier believe in the Granger’s power. By creating a special court just for veterans, she’s honoring their past service and re-awakening in them the sense of pride, duty and courage they’ll need to conquer the demons that brought them to her court.

Granger, in turn, credits the power of veteran mentors whose presence conveys: “I have your back.”

“There’s a culture of duty and loyalty in the military,” Granger said. “That doesn’t go away when you leave the service.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

 

1
Text Only
News
  • 2014 Decatur County 4-H Fair Baby Show CRAFTSDASHING THRU THE SEASONS:Class 1: Valentine1st - Debbie Jones 2nd - Pauline White, Clinton ClubClass 2: Spring & Easter1st - Rita Hellmich, 2010 Sewing Club2nd - Vicki Schwering3rd – Lori SpearsClass 3: Summer & Patriotic1st – Rita Hellmich, 20

    July 25, 2014

  • ag-gb072514 farmers market week pic August 3-9 is National Farmers' Market Week WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has declared August 3 through 9, 2014, "National Farmers Market Week". Throughout the week, USDA will celebrate our nation's thousands of farmers markets, farmers who make them possible and the communiti

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • nws-gb072514 Bunting fulbright award pic Bunting receives Fulbright Luke Bunting of Butler University has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to Korea for an English Teaching Assistantship, the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced recently.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • biz-gb072514-carquest ribbon cutting pic CarQuest celebrates grand opening GREENSBURG – New Point native Bob Morton has spent years in the auto parts business, setting up shop in locations as far away as Minnesota.He’s back home now, and opened his latest endeavor, CarQuest, to the public for a festive Grand Opening Thursda

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • nws-gb072414-mainsource mug 2 MainSource income rises 5.9% GREENSBURG — MainSource Financial Group reported second-quarter net income of nearly $7.8 million, up about 5.9 percent from a year earlier.Higher net interest income more than offset slightly lower noninterest income.Greensburg-based MSFG is the par

    July 24, 2014 3 Photos

  • Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick Holiday World to Unveil $22M ProjectOfficials at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus will announce details Thursday of a $22 million investment. The project represents the largest amount ever spent on a single ride in the attraction’s nea

    July 24, 2014

  • nws-gb072414-meth bust couple mug 2 Indy couple arrested on drug charges GREENSBURG – An Indianapolis couple has been jailed in Decatur County Jail on felony drug dealing charges following a lengthy police investigation.Zachariah Long, 33, and Christina Cowles, 32, both of Indianapolis, were arrested around 4 p.m. Tuesday

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Decatur County Events Calendar Local clubs, service groups, fraternal organizations and others are encouraged to send their Coming Events information to the Daily News at news@greensburgdailynews.com or Daily News, PO Box 106, Greensburg, IN 47240. All July – International Crafts

    July 24, 2014

  • nws-gb072414 DCCF pic DCCF names Scheidler to Decatur Society Although, it could easily have been mistaken for a Scheidler family reunion, the Decatur County Community Foundation was actually hosting its Annual Meeting on Tuesday, June 24. The Decatur County Schools Administration Building was the perfect setti

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • nws-gb072414-Kids Closet pic Kids Closet to hold fashion show at next opening GREENSBURG – The Kids’ Closet of Decatur County has made quite a name for itself in the relatively short time it has been in operation.In just two years, the organization has grown significantly, outgrowing the basement space at First Christian Churc

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo