Veterans court is ready
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — In June, Belmont County Common Pleas Court launched a route to rehabilitation and a clean record for veterans who have committed criminal offenses.
During a recent visit to Columbus Judge Frank Fregiato, who presides over the court, met with Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy, who has advocated for such specialized courts statewide. He updated her on the local progress.
“The legal language is it’s a veterans treatment court, but here in Belmont County we’re calling it the veterans honor court,” Fregiato said. “Basically, it’s to resolve any issue directly derived or related to the military experience of the individual. If the problem or alleged crime is unrelated to the military experience, the individual doesn’t qualify just because he or she was in the military.”
Kennedy has emphasized the need to look at the special conditions of veterans.
“It’s based upon a shared experience that military individuals have, and we try to resolve that problem that occurred in the military. It is far from the easy way out. We emphasized then and we emphasize now that it is a grueling, long-term process. It takes at least a minimum of one year, and we address the individual and the problem he or she is having. It’s a long-term treatment and care process,” Fregiato said.
He added that the court has not been busy so far.
“None have gone through it. A couple have voiced interest in it,” Fregiato said. “We’ve got a large percentage of veterans here in Belmont County, a larger group than most counties have. We’re grateful for the fact that most of them are not in felony difficulties.”
This court joins other specialized courts, many of which are connected to the drug epidemic. Another developing program is a mental health court operated by Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra.
“We haven’t had a lot of participants (in the veterans honor court). What we’ve got is a huge group of participants in the drug court,” Fregiato said.
“We’re trying to get the word out that it does, in fact, exist. If you’re charged with a felony or through the county court proceedings if you’re charged with a misdemeanor, I’m willing to take those individuals into the veterans honor court,” Fregiato said. “We’ve been certified by the Ohio Supreme Court with authority to go forward.”
Fregiato said Common Pleas Judge Daniel Padden of Guernsey County is exploring using Belmont County’s veterans court. Fregiato said Padden recently viewed the drug court proceedings, since he does not currently operate one in Guernsey County.
“He’s interested in seeing how we do it in Belmont County,” Fregiato said. “It’s staying about the same. Some people graduate, some people flunk but we’re always getting new ones in.”
Meanwhile, the local courts continue to work with the juvenile court and anti-drug programs to bring preventive measures to Belmont County schools. An annual car show and community event has proven an impressive local fundraiser for Belmont County Staying Clean, the drug-free club that serves area students.