A web ad touting 4th Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey‘s use of Veterans Court has drawn scrutiny, both on and off the record. And Corey is pushing back against the assertions.
Among the assertions: that Corey opposed the creation of Veterans Treatment Court and continues to oppose it. And that her web ad misrepresents her commitment to the concept.
“There is a belief among the Vet Court staff that she has ordered a standing objection to her ASAs to object to every time an assistant [public defender] makes a motion to divert a veteran to Vet Court,” one source affiliated with the office of the public defender says.
In response to that, Corey’s campaign offered the following.
“To the contrary, when Veterans Treatment Court was being formed, Ms. Corey assigned then-Chief Assistant Dan McCarthy, retired Navy captain and former head of military affairs for the City of Jacksonville, to handle any and all meetings regarding Veterans Court. Additionally, the SAO received praise for their efforts from Public Defender Matt Shirk,” Cathleen Murphy of the Corey campaign said, noting a 2011 article in which Shirk was quoted praising Corey for Veterans Court.
“Mr. Shirk indicated that an operational VTC for Duval County would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of the following. Chief Judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Don Moran, Joe Stelma and the staff at Court Administration. State Attorney Angela Corey. The City of Jacksonville. The Veteran’s Administration and social service agencies who work in the criminal justice system,” the published article said.
Another assertion: “The person featured as supposedly a graduate of Veterans Court, Michael Swenson, did NOT go through Veterans Court. In fact, he didn’t because Angela’s office objected.”
Murphy’s response: “Mr. Swenson was not eligible for Veterans Treatment Court, as stated in the video by Mr. Swenson and Ms. Corey. The point of Michael Swenson’s case was that it involved a firearm, so he was ineligible for VTC, however his lawyer and Mr. Swenson met with Ms. Corey in person. She heard his mitigation and waived the minimum mandatory, and also offered a withhold of adjudication — which the court accepted, —keeping him from being a convicted felon. Swenson is an example of how Ms. Corey has mitigated veteran’s cases even if they are ineligible for VTC.”
The third anti-Corey assertion: “the two ‘Vet Court Staff/Volunteer’ members featured in the commercial are NOT staff or volunteers. They are from Hillsborough County. It’s no surprise that Angela asked NO ONE from Duval County to be in the commercial because anyone from Duval would have refused. They know Angela doesn’t support Vet Court.”
Murphy responded, saying the criticism missed the point: “Ms. Corey did not personally ask anyone to be in the video. She participated in the video, but did not produce it. The producer’s goal was to tout VTC, not give Ms. Corey credit for it, so we’re not sure why the PD’s office is complaining.”
On the record, Director of Duval Veterans Court John Holzbauer echoed those concerns, saying that he and others were “taken aback” by the five-minute ad.
Michael Swenson, said Holzbauer, is a “bonafide vet” and was “screened for Veterans’ Court,” yet the state attorney’s office denied him consideration.
Swenson, said Holzbauer, was “uninformed about the process,” and is “only now realizing he didn’t get the deal he thought he was getting.”
“That man never participated in Veterans’ Court or any construct that emulates Veterans’ Court.”
Swenson, a combat veteran of the United States Army, had faced three charges. Two for aggravated assault, and one for a concealed weapon without a permit.
The assault charges were dropped; Holzbauer said that the weapons charge, a felony, had adjudication withheld.
Ironically, Holzbauer adds, if Swenson had completed the program, his charges would have been dismissed.
As it is, Holzbauer says the former Army Ranger is having trouble finding work.
Holzbauer also says of the “multiple spokespeople” in the ad, “none have anything to do with the 4th Circuit.”
One such spokesman: Retired U.S. Army Colonel D.J. Reyes (featured at the 1:23 mark) is from the 13th Circuit, in Hillsborough County.
Holzbauer said that Reyes “thought he was providing a PSA,” not a campaign video.
Reyes confirms that account in an email.
“In early May 2016, one of Hillsborough County VTC mentors (Mr. Travis Horn) approached me and advised that a friend of his (in Jacksonville) was working a video that provided information on the VTC. He also knew of our VTC program and asked if I could provide information on the VTC. I agreed, because I understood this project to be a community education project. I speak often in Hillsborough County before various organizations and panels on the VTC and the Mentor Program. This was not an unusual request to me. Additionally, there was no mention of any political endorsement or requirement to speak of any specific cases, be it Hillsborough or Duval. As you’ll note on the video, I provided factual data on veteran statistics, and I mentioned the philosophy of the VTC — treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration of veterans back into the local communities,” Reyes wrote.
“After I completed my on-camera interview,” Reyes added, “I departed the premises. I did not remain to observe Mr. Travis Horn’s on-camera filming, the questions asked, or his subsequent responses.”
Among his other allegations: Assistant state attorneys call the veterans’ court a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” and that out of the 130 veterans’ court graduates, only about a dozen came with the consent of the SAO.
According to the Corey side, Holzbauer has changed his tune in recent years.
“They’re actually referring cases to us now,” he said in 2013, as quoted in a Times-Union article.