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Serving Those Who Served

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

  • By: Michael P. Taubman
  • Organization: Tulsa County Bar Association

The Municipal Court of the City of Tulsa opened the first docket of its new Veteran's Court program on March 25, 2011.  Judge Burk Bishop presided over the inaugural docket, which the Court plans will be held on the last Friday of each month.  The goal of this special docket "is to identify veterans who lack the services that are available to them" said Bishop.

 

Judge Bishop served in the U.S. Army for a total of twenty-one years. A graduate of the United Stales Military Academy at West Point, NY, Judge Bishop started his military career as a field artillery officer at Fort Bragg. N.C. before joining the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General Corps, where he eventually retired at the rank of Major.  Each of the three Municipal Court division judges, Bishop, Hoffmeister, and McCune, as well as the Court Administrator, Tony Cellino, credited their working relationship with the elected leadership in the City of Tulsa as the origin for this new veterans docket.
 

City Councilor G.T. Bynum (Dist. 9) sought the help of Matt Steiner, mentor and resource coordinator for the Tulsa County Veterans Court, for assistance in formulating a veterans' program in the City of Tulsa's Municipal Court system.  Bynum and Steiner discussed expanding the veterans' diversionary program concept to the Tulsa Municipal Court system.  Steiner, a Marine and veteran of Iraq and recipient of a combat action ribbon, assisted with establishment of the successful veterans' court program with the Tulsa County District Court when he worked for former Mayor Kathy Taylor.  Recently in April, Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale appeared on a panel in Washington, D.C. with actor Martin Sheen and discussed the success of Tulsa's veterans court, which has served as a model for other court systems around the Nation.

 

"What we ask our military service members to go through, then expect them to drop back into society and pick up where they left off just isn't that easy," said Bynum.  According to Bishop, the VA offers more programs now to help our soldiers transition back into civilian life than when he retired.  However, the amount of services offered is only one facet of the problem according to Steiner. 

 

"One of the biggest challenges is the warrior mentality- that you can overcome anything if you're tough cnough" said Steiner.  To get veterans to recognize that they need help, these divcrsionary programs offer veterans an opportunity to become better educated about the services available to them when it becomes clear that they need it, standing before a court.  The Municipal Court's veterans' docket provides an opportunity to re·educate veterans about their service benefits in a time of crisis.  
 

To recognize the sacrifices veterans make for our Nation, Bynum asked if they would have the capability to implement such a program at a  meeting with the Judges, Cellino and Chief Municipal Prosecutor, Robert Garner.  Together, the Judges and Court Administrator determined that they could accomplish the goal through their docketing system and some calendar management, with virtually little to no additional cost to the citizens of Tulsa.  Their solution was to create an alternative docket for addressing the unique problems our veterans face in returning to Civilian life.

 

The current plan is to hold the veterans' docket on the last Friday of each month, starting at 8:30 A.M. with arraignments, followed at 9:30 a.m. by conferences, with future plans for 10:30 a.m. review docket. Attorneys are encouraged to ask their clients at the outset of  representation whether or not they arc a veteran, and, if so, what veterans' benefits they are currently utilizing.  To get a client's case moved onto the veterans' docket, attorneys and pro se parties must make a point to announce to the Court that the person is a veteran.

 

Further information may be obtained by contacting the Office of the Court Administrator for the Municipal Court of the City of Tulsa at (918) 596-7757.

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