Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A call to arms on veterans’ court

A Maryland State Bar Association committee is seeking to attract support for a specialized “veterans court” for Maryland.

(From left) Senior Assistant Harford County Attorney Michael G. Comeau and John H. Price Jr. of the Law Offices of John H. Price Jr. in Baltimore discuss the possibility of adding a veterans court in the state during the Maryland State Bar Association's 2013 Annual Meeting in Ocean City on Thursday. (Kristi Tousignant/The Daily Record)

Attorneys discussed the possibility during the MSBA’s 2013 annual meeting on Thursday.

A General Assembly task force on the creation of a veterans court is scheduled to submit its report this December, but the process has been a slow one, said Senior Assistant Harford County Attorney Michael G. Comeau.

“There is a level of coolness concerning the establishment of a veterans court,” said Comeau, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He is also the outgoing chairman of the MSBA’s Special Committee on Veteran’s Affairs and Military Law.

Like drug court, a veterans court is a specialty docket. Service members would be tried for minor offenses; the program would emphasize rehabilitation, with the veteran returning to court frequently so the judge can check on his or her progress.

The issue has been working its way through the state government since 2008, Comeau said. It took several years for a bill to establish the task force to move through the General Assembly, but the measure passed in 2012, he said.

The Task Force on Military Service Members, Veterans, and the Courts had its third meeting June 10 and is still gathering information, Comeau said.

Comeau said he thinks support for the initiative is slowing. While there is support for veterans, the work required to establish the new system has made some hesitant to move forward, he said.

“We have tens of thousands of new veterans in Maryland,” Comeau said. “The wheels seem to be turning excruciatingly slow.”

The court would come at no additional cost to the state or taxpayers, but would require at least one judge to volunteer to hear cases.

“I just hope people stay open and work with us to see if it can work,” Comeau said.

The process to put the court into place could be complicated, though. Right now, there is no way to track veterans if they need legal help.

Forms used by the police, public defenders or court clerks would need to add a question about whether the suspect is a veteran, a change that is hard to institute, said John H. Price Jr. of the Law Offices of John H. Price Jr. in Baltimore

“It could be in a police report,” Price said. “They don’t check if you’re a veteran or not. You could capture it there.”

Attorney Howard L. Metz of The Law Office of Howard L. Metz LLC in Frederick attended the seminar and said he wasn’t previously aware the state was considering a veterans court. Metz has represented service members and their families in Social Security and disability cases.

“I think the idea of a veterans court is interesting,” said Metz. “Frederick County has had great success with its drug court. I’d like to discuss it more.”

The MSBA committee wants to drum up public interest among those interested in veterans’ issues and among professionals in the medical field and universities, Price said.

“My message is that the community needs to be talked to,” Comeau said. “The task force gathered a lot of information, but they need to know the veterans community and those that care about veterans in Maryland.