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Veterans court judge to serve overseas

Nassau District Court Judge Terence Murphy, the chief

Nassau District Court Judge Terence Murphy, the chief judge in Nassau Veterans Court, is shipping off to Kuwait. (May 21, 2013) Credit: Handout

Nassau County Veterans Court Judge Terence Murphy sees people in his courtroom every day who, at some point in their lives, pulled themselves away from home and family to serve overseas in the military.

Now Murphy, who presides over the specialized courtroom in Hempstead District Court designed to serve nonviolent veteran defendants, is himself heading to Kuwait to serve for a year in the Army Reserve's Judge Advocate General, or JAG, Corps.

It is a sacrifice he said he feels duty-bound to make, and one he says will help him in his work at home with veterans.

"There's an instantaneous connection going both ways," said Murphy, the only active-military judge presiding over one of New York's 17 veterans courts. "Once the participants understand that I've been there and done that, they relax and get more comfortable."

Murphy first joined the Army after high school, serving three years as a signal man in the 8th Infantry in West Germany between 1973 and 1976, he said. Fifteen years later, while he was at Touro Law School, he signed up for the reserves with the hope of being part of the JAG Corps, and has served ever since.

The mission Murphy leaves on next week is his third overseas with the JAG Corps in about the last decade.

In 2002, he served about four months in Bosnia, providing legal advice to soldiers and commanders there. In 2005, he served in Iraq as a legal adviser on the Saddam Hussein prosecution. This time he will advise a commanding general in Kuwait as he presides over logistical operations in the area.

"My responsibility is . . . to hold myself out as an example of what a citizen's obligation should be to his community, his state and his nation," said Murphy, who is married with three sons, ages 14, 17 and 19.

Murphy, 57, of Seaford, said his wife and children understand his desire to serve.

"They understand my obligation to our country, and their obligation to sacrifice the comfort of an intact family," he said, adding that he hopes to be able to stay in close touch with his family regularly during the mission.

Murphy has been presiding over the Nassau Veteran's Court since November 2011, when it first opened.

The idea behind the court -- one of 17 in the state -- is to identify veterans whose crimes (usually nonviolent) are related to mental health or substance abuse issues related to their service, court officials have said. Veterans who are found to be eligible for the court are given the chance to plead guilty and get treatment for the underlying causes of their problem rather than go to jail.

Those who successfully complete treatment have the charge removed from their records, prosecutors and court officials have said.

Murphy said he impresses on all the veterans in his courtroom that their success or failure will reflect on all those who come after them. No one understands an obligation to others better than veterans, he said.

"They want to do well for the next veteran," he said. "They know they are establishing a foundation for the people who will follow."

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