By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Khalat Alama pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe a federal official and bribery of a federal official. An additional 30 months was tacked onto his prison term.
Before his client was sentenced, Daniel Goggin gambled on a legal long shot: He requested that the court reassign Perkins' case to a so-called veterans treatment court, hoping that Judge Reagan might apply to the federal level a trend that in recent years has gained significant traction at the state level.
Many veterans who suffer from combat-related mental illness land in the legal system as first offenders. The vet-court concept is analogous to drug court, offering defendants a second chance by reducing prison terms or bypassing convictions altogether if the accused agrees to participate in individualized, VA-run treatment programs and check in regularly with the court. The setup is doubly attractive to politicians, in that it provides positive press fodder and saves taxpayers money.
Associate Judge Robert Russell of Buffalo, New York, opened the first such court in 2008 after seeing veterans who came through his drug court interact positively with one another. In the three years beginning in 2009, the number of vet courts in the U.S. swelled from 4 to 92, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, a nonprofit agency based in Alexandria, Virginia.
The movement has been slow to gain a foothold at the federal level, but that tide has begun to turn.
"The idea is starting to percolate," says Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner of the District of Utah, who instituted the nation's first federal vet court in 2010. Warner spent six years in the Navy before joining the Army National Guard's Judge Advocate General's Corps, retiring as a colonel. He says he relies on district judges to refer appropriate cases to him.
"The defendants respect that I'm an army colonel a lot more than the fact I'm wearing a black robe," he says.
The Western District of Virginia recently opened a vet court, and in February of this year, a 45-year-old Persian Gulf navy veteran, who'd been charged with multiple felonies related to manufacturing a weapon, avoided conviction and a 40-year prison sentence by completing his treatment program.
This past March, a 32-year-old army vet who developed PTSD after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan became the first graduate of the Western District of New York's vet court, which is administered at the state level. The charges against him — assault, threatening to kill a VA worker and threatening to bomb a Buffalo television station — were dropped.
In the Eastern District of Missouri, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. quietly opened a federal vet court this past October in Cape Girardeau. (Prior to his appointment to the federal bench in 2008, Limbaugh served on the Missouri Supreme Court; his cousin, radio raconteur Rush, is somewhat less apt at flying under the radar.)
Coincidentally, the fifth federal-level vet court might take root in the Southern District of Illinois, raising the possibility that Dreux Perkins can add a bad-timing card to his hand of misfortunes. Since opening a vet court in Madison County in 2009, Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr. has graduated 35 defendants, only one of whom has reoffended. He says he's willing to take on federal-level cases, and he has found an ally in Madison County Assistant State's Attorney John Fischer, who plans to pitch the idea to U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton sometime in the next few months.
"We're trying to stay ahead of the game," Fischer says. "This would be a measure to help out these veterans by filling the gap until the government wants to implement vet courts at the federal level."
Meanwhile, civilian offenders suffering from gambling addictions might soon have their day in diversion court.
"With gambling moving over to the addictions in the DSM, I hope they just start calling them addiction courts," says Jeremiah Weinstock, a Saint Louis University psychology professor who is investigating proposed changes to the pathological gambling criteria for the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The U.S. already has one gambling court.
Judge Mark Farrell, senior justice for criminal and civil courts in the affluent Buffalo suburb of Amherst, New York, set up shop in 2001 after learning that many of his fraud and larceny cases stemmed from gambling addictions. Though he hopes other judges follow his lead, he doubts many legislators will rally to the cause anytime soon.
"The government is facing a budgetary shortfall as is," notes Farrell, adding that casino taxes are a major source of tax revenue. "This is a subjective opinion on my part, but who's the biggest partner for gaming? Government."
Casino taxes aren't the only source of gambling-related government revenue.
Military personnel fork over a hefty chunk of change.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army says its Recreation Machine Program operates 2,189 electronic-gaming machines on overseas army, navy and marine bases outside combat zones worldwide. A similar program administered by the air force accounts for another 1,100 machines.
In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, the military netted $142.3 million through its slot machines. The funds are earmarked for the upkeep of golf courses, bowling alleys, skate parks and other recreational facilities the military operates for personnel and their families.