WILMINGTON — District Attorneys Ben and Jon David announced today a plan to help veterans clear up compounded criminal charges from missed court dates, “snowballing” charges that may bar them from “employment, housing, and other opportunities.”
The event, being called “Operation Clean Slate,” brings together members of the Chief District Courts Judiciary, Superior Court Clerks, and the Attorney General’s Offices.
Operation Clean slate is “designed for veterans and their spouses to address pending non-violent misdemeanors, traffic citations, or other minor matters in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender Counties,” according to a joint release from the offices of the David brothers, who together serve as district attorneys for the five county area.
Who is eligible?
Operation Clean Slate is designed primarily for court cases that have been called and failed – in other words, cases for defendants who have missed their court date – or in cases where an arrest warrant has been issued.
According to the Ben David, “fines, court costs, and orders for arrest associated with past missed court dates for these offenses will be waived and set aside.”
David said that the event was aimed at those who had committed minor infractions, but whose cases had “snowballed,” because they had been ignored or not dealt with. Jon David added that there were many reasons for this.
“Sometimes these young men and women are deployed at the time of their court case,” Jon David said. “But there’s also, we have to admit, sometimes darker reasons. Some of our veterans have not dealt with these issues because they have returned from service with PTSD, or they have fallen into substance abuse.”
Ben David also stressed that – while the event is geared toward veterans whose cases had snowballed – any veteran could take advantage of the event.
“If you have a pending charge, and you haven’t had your court date yet, I would suggest you go to your court date. But if, for example, you have several speeding tickets in different counties, this is a way to deal with all of them at once,” David said.
David suggested anyone with questions about whether or not they were eligible to contact the court clerk in the county of their charge (information below).
Amnesty, not immunity
Ben and Jon David both reiterated that Operation Clean slate was “not immunity.”
While the legal repercussions of missing court dates would be set aside, the original crime would have to be dealt with.
“It’s a chance to come in and deal with this like it happened yesterday, and deal with it and treat it honestly,” Ben David said, adding that, in many cases, minor offenses might be able to be forgiven or pleaded down.
According to Marion Warren, former district judge and current director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, a previous event handled over 100 veterans in a two-hour period. While this may seem like a fast pace, Warren said it was actually a more measured pace than a regular courtroom day.
The event will be staffed with two judges and a staff of attorneys, all authorized to work across county lines for the day, Warren said.
The real work, Warren said, was by the clerks from the five participating counties.
“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Warren said, adding that the event could only work because of the preparation of clerks and the follow-through afterward to make sure information made it to Raleigh.
Ben and Jon David added that there would be a “continuum of care,” for veterans during the event. According to Ben David, this will include everything from legal services – including pro-bono service by private attorneys and public defenders – to counseling and treatment for substance abuse.
Though the event is “not immunity,” Ben David did suggest the normal “adversarial” relationship between defense and prosecution would be replaced – for the day – with an attempt to find the best arrangement for each veteran.
Jon David said there would also be options for veterans struggling to pay court costs, and Ben David added that assistance with transportation could be arranged. Warren said that he hoped future events would incorporate public transportation.
Attending the event
Outstanding cases from all five counties will be dealt with during a two-hour event, held at the New Hanover County Courthouse’s Courtroom 317, on Friday, Nov. 17, from 2 – 4 p.m. The courthouse is located at 316 Princess St. in Wilmington.
Both district attorneys said interested veterans should contact the clerk’s office of the county – or counties – where their case(s) are pending to determine if they are eligible, and to collect helpful paperwork before attending.
But the most important thing, Ben David said, was that any veterans with concerns about outstanding charges make the effort to get them taken care of.
“If nothing else, please show up on that day (Nov. 17), and we’ll do everything we can to take care of you,” he said.
Court Clerk contact info
Below: contact info for each of the five participating counties
Clerk of Superior Court Niki Dennis
Contact: Leisha Brown
Clerk of Superior Court Jim MacCallum
Contact: Jennifer Jones
Clerk of Superior Court Jess Hill
Contact: Tina Blackmon
New Hanover County
Clerk of Superior Court Jan Kennedy
Contact: Sandy Gerstenmier
Clerk of Superior Court Elizabeth H. Craver
Contact: Dena Pence
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.