Despite being vetoed 3 times, California legislature debates bill regarding creation of veterans courts

Veterans courts in the United States are generally created in two manners: either the legislature enacts legislation authorizing (or mandating) their creation, or the courts/judiciary exercise their power to control their own dockets to create these specialized divisions. Several of California’s Superior Courts have created veterans courts using their own inherent powers, however the California legislature has 3 times passed bills on the subject, and 3 times governors have vetoed the bills as unnecessary or infringing on the judiciary’s power to control its dockets. Nevertheless, a new round in this discussion has now begun.

AB 963 of 2015 would require every Superior Court individually, or together with a neighboring county, create veterans courts. The bill spells out who would be eligible and how the veterans court would operate.

This mandate that the Superior Courts must create these courts in every county is a marked difference with the three prior vetoed efforts that merely authorized the creation.

AB 1925 of 2010: authorized Superior Courts to implement preguilty plea programs, deferred entry of judgment programs, and/or postguilty plea veterans court programs. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill claiming it was unnecessary

[A]uthorizing legislation is not required for the superior courts to establish specialized courts with dedicated calendars. I would urge the Judicial Council to examine the need for veterans’ courts, however, and establish appropriate guidelines for the superior courts to follow.

AB 201 of 2011 repeated verbatim the previously vetoed AB 1925 of 2010. It too was vetoed, this time by Governor Jerry Brown.

While the provisions of this bill are well-intended, they create a clear expectation that our courts-already struggling with painful budget cuts–will establish a new program.

Given current budgetary constraints, the decision to adopt this kind of program-something already within the courts’ authority–is better left to the sound discretion of the judiciary.

AB 2611 of 2012 was again effectively a repeat of the prior legislation. It was vetoed again by Governor Jerry Brown for the same reasons.

I applaud the author’s interest in encouraging courts to focus on helping these offenders [who are veterans] rather than focusing solely on the punishment.

These matters, however, fall logically within the sound discretion of the courts. Veterans treatment courts operate today in 15 counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura. Nine more counties are considering whether to establish one. A bill is not necessary. I urge courts to continue to explore ways to meet the needs of veterans who have served their nation, including establishing a veterans treatment court.