TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Veterans Outreach Court for Hillsborough County docket is once a year in VA facility space transformed into courtrooms for the day, but the defendants hope the legal help will last much longer.
Even without a gavel or jury, Army Veteran Garren Adulte would say there was justice. He is one of more than 200 veterans who have been helped by the court since its first session in 2016.
The judges have the power to clear up misdemeanor warrants, fines, legal fees, court costs and ordinance violations. More serious transgressions such as domestic violence, child support issues and felony warrants are not heard in the outreach court.
Adulte took the stand with legal baggage that developed over the 13 years since he served during the war in Afghanistan.
“Coming back, you’re a different person,” Adulte said. “You’ll never be the same.”
Adulte recalled watching his Lieutenant get blown up through the scope of his rifle, and said he worried about the same potential fate.
“It just becomes a way of life. It just becomes survival. You’re in survival mode,” Adulte said. “You have to do what you have to do or you’re going to be next. You’re going to be the one taken away in the helicopter.”
That stress came home with Adulte, leading to drug issues and recent homelessness. Judge Michael Williams relieved some of the pressure by cleaning up his Hillsborough County record.
Army Veteran Frank Colon took the stand with a rap sheet that included 10 cases that were mostly traffic violations. Judge Williams asked him the struggles he faces.
“Stress,” Colon told the judge after a deep breath and a pause. “I’m suffering from PTSD.”
Colon has come a long way since serving about 50 years ago. He now looks to the future, hoping his newly cleaned slate in Tampa will help him with clean up his record up north so he can get his driver’s license back.
“It’s a load off my back. Now, I have to clear up my record in New Jersey,” Colon said. “I’m an electrician and want to go back to work. If you can’t drive, you can’t work.”
Adulte also left with more work to do to find a better path in life but he said he hopes his morning in this temporary court will lead to permanent results.
“It’s a great relief,” Adulte said. “I know now I can walk out and hold my head up instead of looking at the ground.”
Veterans Outreach Court has handled about a thousand cases and waived about $250,000 in fines and other costs since 2016.
Judge Daryl Manning, who also took the bench Friday, is an Army veteran. He said it is his mission to help as many veterans as possible.
“Veterans Outreach Court is a way we can help these men and women veterans quickly resolve some of their legal issues and help them get back on their feet,” Manning said.