On July 19th several members of the LSFN participated in a visit to the San Francisco Veterans Justice Court, which is described as ‘a collaborative court that demonstrates a true partnership among community stakeholders and city partners.
Veterans returning from the current conflicts and separating from the military are already appearing in San Francisco jails as well as federal and state correctional institutions.’ The Court’s materials outline its objective to ‘provide substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as academic, vocational, or skills improvement leading to job placement and retention.’ The following are the thoughts from LSFN members who were able to participate in the visit.
Nancy Wiltsek, van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation:
‘The LSFN organized a visit to the Veterans Justice Court (VJC), one of a number of collaborative courts operating under the auspices of the Superior Court of San Francisco. Our group met with Judge Jeffrey S. Ross in his chambers to learn about the history, goals, and process of the Court we would be observing. This was followed by pre-court case conferences where each individual’s progress was discussed by the various stakeholders – District Attorney, Public Defender (or private counsel), Adult Probation, VA Case Managers etc. It’s an extraordinary effort that represents a different way of meting out justice – where the underlying issues of the criminal behavior are addressed – and where the court has discretion to celebrate accomplishments and tailor sanctions depending on individuals’ needs. Thanks to Tom Loran for helping to organize the visit and to the whole VJC team for an interesting, enlightening and moving afternoon.’
Thomas V. Loran III, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
‘I was particularly impressed by the individual attention given to all litigants by the battery of legal and medical professionals who assembled in Judge Ross’s chambers for two hours before the hearings and to witness myself first-hand inside the courtroom the significant positive impacts on and outcomes for so many of the lives of the vets who find themselves before Judge Ross. In particular, Judge Ross’s compassionate and respectful treatment of these men and woman from the bench underscores, in a way that few can, their human dignity and the respect that should be accorded as members of our local community and not just for their military service.’
Bill Lockwood, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust
‘The opportunity to see the San Francisco Veterans Justice Court in action, on July 19th, was an invaluable experience. As a funder of veteran programs, the visit provided me an opportunity to better understand the importance of a wide variety of veteran programs and services at the local through national level. I was impressed with the complexity of the issues addressed by the legal and social services team and especially the compassion and commitment of the team members and Judge Ross to serving the best interests of the veterans in the court. The testimonial of one of the graduating veterans who said “I’ve been an addict for 30 years and this is the longest I’ve been sober . . . ” attested to the importance of this collaborative court.’
Jenny Chan, van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation
‘Judge Ross lightened the solemnity of a criminal courtroom with his compassionate and fair words, providing supportive comments but being stern when he had to, always stressing to the veterans that the VJC team is invested in participants’ progress and is working towards the same goals. As observers, we were lucky enough to be there for a VJC graduation, where 4 vets who had successfully completed all phases of the program received congratulations, applause and a chance to make remarks to the Court and other participants. Among the conditions for passing all the three phases of the program: submitting a Graduation Plan to one’s case worker, adhering to an agreed-upon treatment plan, remaining clean for a prescribed number of consecutive months, court attendance, establishing long-term housing, and consistent compliance with other court orders. It is a massive feat. One of the graduates said that through the program, he learned that he was strong enough to reclaim responsibility for his life and decisions, and also managed to remain drug-free in the process after 30 years of drug addiction; it was touching and humbling to hear the graduates’ advice to their peers. Thank you so much to the stellar and hardworking VJC team for hosting us.’