Bucks Writs - Winter 2020 - 18


By Chris Serpico

Lawyers and citizens of Bucks County are
fortunate to have one of the most innovative
specialty courts in the Commonwealth
operating in our criminal courtrooms.
For the past seven years, Veterans Court has, where
appropriate, assisted military veterans find successful
treatment options as an alternative to more traditional
sentencing procedures, such as incarceration or extended
periods of probation or parole supervision.
The Veterans Court program is the brainchild of Chief
Deputy District Attorney Bob James. A veteran of the United
States Air Force, he saw action during the Gulf War before
"enlisting" in law school. It was after he began working for
the Bucks County DA's Office that Bob happened to watch
an HBO documentary that detailed the unresolved issues
that many veterans encounter in civilian life upon discharge
from military service. That viewing experience inspired him
to see what could possibly be done to help veterans in
Bucks County who faced criminal charges.

The program relies heavily on the support of
a group of twelve mentors, so called "battle
buddies" who have military backgrounds and
are willing to lend a guiding hand to fellow
veterans in trouble with the law.
who have military backgrounds and are willing to lend a
guiding hand to fellow veterans in trouble with the law.
The mentors' role is similar in scope to those dedicated
individuals who act as sponsors for AA participants.

As a prosecutor, he had first-hand knowledge of cases
involving veterans who had been arrested and required
to appear in criminal court, sometimes repeatedly, for
crimes where the underlying cause was clearly related to
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After investigating
Veterans Court programs available at that time in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties, he was able to cobble
together a program for Bucks County using the best ideas
taken from our neighboring courts. He calls the Veterans
Program "a labor of love" that was motivated by his own
military background.

In Judge Bateman's courtroom, I had the chance to observe
the interactions of mentors Elwood (Woody) Hippel, US
Air Guard Colonel (retired); Francis X. Dufner, US Customs
Service Special Agent (retired), and BCBA Executive Director
Greg Nardi, US Army Lieutenant Colonel, 1995-2017.
I watched as Clyde Craddock, a disabled Korean War vet,
agreed to schedule a mental health evaluation, submit
to random drug screening and complete 25 hours of
community service as an incentive to having his theft and
receiving stolen property charges reduced to a summary
offense, despite having a lengthy criminal history. I also
observed three other veterans, previously screened for the
Veterans Court program, obtain the Court's permission
to defer sentencing on their criminal cases to allow them
time to comply with treatment options offered in lieu of
jail or probation. Most veterans who participate in the
program are required to obtain a mental health evaluation
(paid for by the VA), and seek intervention whenever a
drug or alcohol dependence or PTSD disorder is diagnosed.

The program's goal is to help vets who had been unable
to successfully address substance abuse issues by steering
them to individuals and agencies that would work with the
Court to insure that men and women who had honorably
served our country could find the support they needed
to address underlying issues that may have led to their
criminal behavior. The program relies heavily on the support
of a group of twelve mentors, so called "battle buddies"



Bucks Writs - Winter 2020

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