The La Paz County Veterans Court celebrated its first graduate Tuesday. David Munden, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, successfully completed the court’s requirements over the course of 9 months and was free of any further obligations as of Tuesday’s graduation ceremony.
Proceedings began when the American Legion posted colors in the Justice of the Peace Court in Parker. Judge Jim Putz-Artrup entered the courtroom and acknowledged the representatives of many organizations who were present, including Penny Pew, the Personal Assistant to Representative Paul Gosar, Lake Havasu City Magistrate Judge Mitch Kalauli, La Paz County Supervisor D.L. Wilson, Public Defender Kathy Field, County Attorney Tony Rogers and others.
Before the graduation, other veterans enrolled in the court program were seen by the judge, which they must do every two weeks. Probation officers attest to their current status and inform the judge of any new circumstances or incidents.
The first to be seen was acknowledged for his efforts to stay away from alcohol, with one ‘slip’ recognized as having happened the week before when he told his probation officer about a bottle of alcohol he’d put in the freezer. “We would normally want to impose one day in jail,” said Judge P-A. “But we’ve discussed it and in lieu of one day in jail we are going to require community service instead. This is your first slip since June. You were honest about it. We’re going to commend you for staying on the right track.”
The second veteran was praised for continuing counseling sessions, and that he had only 4 such sessions left to do. He will have an interlock device in his car and be allowed to drive again soon, and indicated that he wants to start providing transportation for people to the VFW after he begins driving again. He told the judge he was enjoying his life sober and got laughter from the courtroom when he said he’s been drinking a lot of A&W [root beer].
A third case was mentioned in the absence of the veteran in question, who had apparently relapsed recently and had been sent to treatment in Prescott, AZ. He will be calling in for his next court appearance via phone.
Finally, Munden was called up, and received a warm congratulatory message from the judge.
“Everything is great,” said P-A. “The court wants to congratulate you for the progress you’ve made over the last number of months. All negatives on your alcohol testing, you attended all your treatment, you attended all your counseling, you did your community service, you complied with all requests by the Veterans Administration, and with all the orders of this court. I’d like to commend you for that.”
“Thank you, your honor,” replied Munden.
Munden had been charged with multiple domestic violence offenses for an incident that happened in December 2015, after which he pleaded guilty to a single charge on January 4th, 2016. By agreement, Mr. Munden was placed on probation and was the first person assigned to the veterans court.
La Paz County Attorney Tony Rogers says he decides which misdemeanor cases are suitable for the special program based on whether they fit typical patterns often seen in veterans of the U.S. military. With the consent of all parties, the veteran is able to begin the special court, which is thought to be more suited to their needs than a normal court.
“The Veterans Court is a great success,” Rogers said. “It will prove to be a great benefit to the veterans of La Paz County for generations to come.”
Judge P-A said he thinks the court is going very well. “This is the first veteran to graduate 9-month probation,” he said. “We are here to serve the veterans, we are pleased with the progress.”
Also happy with the progress of the court was Superior Court Judge Samuel Vederman, whose order establishing the special court was signed back in April 2015.
“The veterans court has been an extraordinary asset to La Paz County and I could not be more proud to have been a part of its establishment,” Vederman said. “I commend everyone who has participated in the court’s creation and continued development. Improving the lives of our fellow citizens is what it’s all about.”
Munden’s conviction was set aside after his graduation and his probation was terminated immediately. La Paz County’s Veterans Court was the first regional court like it in the state of Arizona, serving all jurisdictions in the County.