Our veterans are an important part of our community, and we always seek better ways to serve them.
Did you know that Lake County is home to nearly 15,000 veterans? Although veterans have served our country and earned the respect of all Americans, they are not exempt from involvement in the criminal justice system. Since taking the bench in 2018, Judge Marisa L. Cornachio has worked with court staff, local partners, and the Ohio Supreme Court to develop a specialized docket for our veterans.
In 2021, Judge Cornachio and the Willoughby Municipal Court received certification from the Ohio Supreme Court, establishing Lake County’s first specialized docket focused exclusively on the needs of veterans. Specialized dockets are court dockets that are dedicated to specific types of offenses or offenders and use a combination of different techniques for holding offenders accountable while also addressing the underlying causes of their behavior. More than 210 specialized dockets in Ohio courts address issues such as drugs and alcohol, mental health, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
The Willoughby Municipal Veterans Treatment Court is a hybrid between a drug court and a mental health court. It uses a treatment problem-solving model rather than a traditional court model to assist veterans. The specialized docket allows veterans to develop job skills, connect to VA services, engage in treatment, stabilize their living situations, and reconnect with veteran peers.
Veterans are considered for the docket with a referral and eligibility screening, including a clinical assessment from the VA. A veteran must plead guilty to the charge to participate and voluntarily remain in the two-year-long program. Participants of the program are required to sign an agreement that outlines program expectations in addition to consequences for noncompliance. Veterans meet with Judge Cornachio, the treatment team, the prosecutor, and the Lake County Public Defender twice a month for the docket.
The Willoughby Municipal Veterans Treatment Court relies on a partnership with the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, Sub Zero Mission, OD Greens, the Lake County Public Defender’s Office, volunteer mentors, and other local veteran service groups. The specialized docket encourages frequent communication between the veteran and the veteran mentor. Peer mentors help replicate the sense of camaraderie and accountability that veterans attained during their time in service. Mentorship is critical to the success of veterans engaged in the criminal justice system.
We applaud the court’s recognition of this important veteran need in our community.