Duquesne Student Attorneys and Veterans Court Forge Unique Partnership
Veterans who have been charged with crimes are receiving additional assistance thanks to a partnership between the Duquesne University School of Law's Veterans Clinic and the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas' Veterans Court, both of which are pioneers in the service that each organization provides.
"Duquesne University has one of the first criminal law veterans clinics in the nation," said Laurie Serafino, director of clinical legal education and associate law professor at Duquesne. "Our student attorneys work with an experienced, supervising attorney to represent individual veterans who are charged with crimes. The students prepare and present cases for disposition in the Court of Common Pleas and stay in touch with veterans to ensure they are following court-ordered treatment plans. The School of Law clinic is providing a vital service to veterans and to the community."
By being a partner of the Veterans Court, Duquesne's Veterans Clinic hopes to save Allegheny County tax dollars while helping keep the recidivism rate low for Western Pennsylvania veterans.
"The role of Duquesne's clinic in Veterans Court is to protect and preserve the rights of our veterans as they journey through the criminal justice system and attempt to regain their lives," said the Hon. John Zottola, director of the Veterans Court, which is based on a model used for drug treatment and/or mental health treatment courts.
One of the only of its kind in the nation, the Veterans Court was launched in 2009 to assist veterans in the criminal court system. Participants in the Veterans Court often have physical, social and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder or addictions. Substance abuse or mental health treatment is offered as an alternative to incarceration.
The Duquesne student attorneys will work within the Veterans Clinic for a full academic year to provide continuity for the veterans. Daniel Kunz, the clinic's supervising attorney, supervises the students and leads them in rigorous course work related to criminal process and procedure, probation and parole, and ethics issues. Debra Barnisin-Lange, senior assistant district attorney, serves as the prosecutor for this specialty court and co-teaches the classroom component of the course.
"As a member of the armed forces myself, I see that most-if not all-truly want to do better and just need the structure and support system offered by the staff and programs of veterans court to succeed," said student attorney John Woodruff, 2nd Lt. USMC, who participates in the Veterans Clinic.
The School of Law's Clinical Education Program serves the community by providing good counsel, trains students in the actual practice of law and promotes the rewards of public service. The Veterans Clinic is one of 13 clinical and externship opportunities offered through the program.