Waco: Judges take steps to create veterans court

(MGN/file)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) After the current docket of state jail felonies in Waco’s 74th State District Court is exhausted, the court’s judge will no longer accept felony cases and will focus instead on creating a veterans court, 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother said Thursday evening.

Strother said he and 74th State District Court Judge Gary Coley met recently to discuss the court's responsibilities and after the discussion decided to suspend Coley's responsibility for state jail felonies and have him concentrate instead on developing and operating a veterans court.

"We're going to pursue creating a veterans court and that's going to be a very 'hands-on' effort," Strother said, “so alleviating his responsibility for state jail felonies will allow him to concentrate on the effort.”

"McLennan County needs a veteran's court," Strother said.

The Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2009 allowing for the creation of specialty courts for veterans in Texas.

Bell County has had one since 2015.

Current service members and veterans charged with misdemeanor offenses who have clinical diagnoses of service-related conditions such as PTSD that played a role in the criminal conduct for which they were charged are eligible for the court.

Those who chose the veterans court treatment program in Bell County are assessed by the VA to determine eligibility for disability and educational benefits and pensions as well as vocational, housing and employment assistance, counseling and medical services.

Under a previous agreement between the two judges, state jail felonies that ended up on Strother’s docket were moved to Coley’s court to reduce Strother’s case load.

Beginning with the current grand jury, any cases already assigned to Coley's docket will remain there but no new cases will be docketed, Strother said.

Then once those cases are disposed of, Coley will accept no more.

State jail felonies are less serious offenses for which the maximum sentence is two years in a state jail.