Todd Markle (John Disney/Staff)
The Fulton County Veterans Court, established just a year ago, got a boost Wednesday night when 15 new volunteers signed up to serve as mentors to vets served by the growing program. The additions doubled the number of mentors in the program.
Atlanta solo Scott Delius, a National Guard Reservist who serves as the court mentor coordinator, said nearly 100 Atlanta lawyers expressed interest after a call went out from Georgia Bar President Charles “Buck” Ruffin seeking potential volunteers. At the evening orientation, between 30 and 40 people—mostly lawyers, and nearly all former service members or reservists—showed up for a presentation by Fulton Superior Court Chief Judge Gail Tusan, Judges T. Jackson Bedford and Todd Markle, and others involved in the program.
Bedford, a Navy aviator during the Vietnam War, said that of the 36 vets admitted to the program since it began last March, 33 remained.
Markle, who presides over the Veterans Court, described it as a “non-adversarial accountability court” where veterans charged with non-violent crimes linked to substance abuse, post-traumatic disorder or a combination of the two can sign on to an 18-month course of intensive supervision and treatment. When they “graduate,” their charges are dismissed.
Veterans Court is held twice a month in Markle’s courtroom, where he monitors the vets’ progress to make sure they’re staying clean and adhering to their treatment programs, pursuing their GEDs or finding work. Those who may have failed a drug test, been caught drinking or otherwise backsliding may be reprimanded or sanctioned by being sent to jail for a few days. In cases of chronic misbehavior, the y can be removed from the program.
Most participants, Markle said, are in their 40s and 50s, a stage in life when they are more likely to benefit from treatment than younger offenders.
“We’re dealing with people who are at the end of the road; their families have given up on them,” he said. “If they don’t make it this time, they’ll probably spend the rest of their live in prison.”
As former service members, Markle said, mentors serve as role models able to bond with their mentees to offer support and advice. But he cautioned that they resist the urge to “put on your lawyer hat” and become an advocate.
“These guys have signed an agreement,” he said. “We may have a difference of opinion, [but] sometimes you have to back off and trust the program.”
Attorney Cary King, who served in the Army in Vietnam, said “You’re not acting as an attorney; you’re acting as a big brother.”
“Sometimes you may have to kick ‘em in the behind.”