Second Suffolk veterans court opens in Southampton

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Suffolk's second veterans court begins work Wednesday morning in Southampton, offering nonviolent criminal defendants who served in the armed forces a way to avoid jail time.

The state's veterans courts, including an existing one run by Suffolk County Court Judge John Toomey Jr., divert nonviolent offenders into counseling, and drug and alcohol treatment, and pair them with mentors who are also veterans.

"The idea is to treat underlying issues that lead to criminal activity," said Marian Tinari, Suffolk courts spokeswoman.

Those underlying issues can include substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological scars.

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"There's a strong mentoring presence by other veterans, and I'm sure that will continue," Tinari said.

Suffolk, with the state's largest veteran population, is the first county with two veterans courts. The new one covers the East End and handles misdemeanor cases only.

Felony cases will continue to be handled by Toomey's Central Islip court, Tinari said. There are about 50 defendants at a time in that court. Nassau has a veterans court in Hempstead.

Southampton Town Justice Andrea A. Schiavoni will preside over the East End veterans court, which was created by order of state Chief Judge A. Gail Prudenti. Suffolk's administrative judge, C. Randall Hinrichs, and District Court Judge Glenn A. Murphy, who supervises town and village courts in Suffolk, helped get it running, Tinari said.

As in Toomey's court and others around the state, there will be a treatment team that includes a project director, a social worker from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran mentors.Both the district attorney's office and the Legal Aid Society have assigned staff to the court, Tinari said.

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