Walko holding Feb. 27 hearing in Pittsburgh on veterans' courts

State Rep. Don Walko, D-Allegheny, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, will hold a public hearing in Pittsburgh next week on veterans’ courts and other problem-solving courts.

The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 27 at Soldiers and Sailors Banquet Hall, 4141 Fifth Ave.

The hearing will focus on veterans’ courts, such as the one that Allegheny County officials plan to have up and running this year. Walko is seeking a community development grant of $25,000 to help fund a case manager for the Allegheny County veterans’ court.

Other major types of problem-solving courts include drug treatment courts and mental health courts. All involve giving people charged with non-violent crimes the opportunity to avoid jail and undergo rehabilitation. Defendants also receive access to services that help them to turn their lives around.

Witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing include:
• State Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery;
• Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Michael E. McCarthy;
• Pete Havern, deputy county manager, presenting testimony from Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato;
• Michael Moreland, director and chief executive officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare – Veterans Integrated Services Network 4, which serves 60 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and parts of five neighboring states;
• Al Mercer, Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania; and
• Representatives from the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

In the 2009-10 session, Walko intends to introduce legislation that would provide funding to counties for use in establishing and maintaining problem-solving courts. To be eligible for funding under the legislation, the courts would have to do the following:
• increase public safety;
• reduce spending on criminal justice; and
• improve the effectiveness of treatment services for defendants with mental illness or substance abuse disorders.