This is an image of Judge Charles E. Roberts talking with an individual during a hearing at Veterans Amnesty Court, part of an event held recently at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.
Judge Charles E. Roberts, seated third from left, presides over Veterans Amnesty Court, part of the 2021 Veterans Stand Down event held Saturday at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. Pictured from left to right: Denise Lagasse, from the State Attorney's Office; Terry Drake, assistant public defender; Judge Roberts; Andrew Van Sickle, assistant state attorney; and Sarasota Sheriff's Deputy Carl Severs.

Veterans Amnesty Court clears path to independence

Having once fought for their country, veterans on Saturday were fighting to regain their independence at Veterans Amnesty Court, part of Veterans Stand Down at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.

Circuit Judge Charles E. Roberts presided over Amnesty Court, the part of the event that can help veterans – some of whom are homeless – find a way out from the encumbering debt of legal financial obligations (LFOs) that hold them back from obtaining their licenses to drive.

This is an image of pairs of boots arranged in two rows
Rows of free boots wait for veterans in need.

The court evaluates each veteran based on the individual’s situation and after taking that into consideration, the judge has the discretion to reduce, waive or convert LFOs to public service work hours to satisfy unpaid fees and fines on closed court cases and unpaid traffic violations.

Judge Roberts addressed the cases of 19 veterans, disposing of 89 total cases, plus he addressed 8 cases from surrounding Manatee, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties.

One veteran that came before Judge Roberts said that medical issues, court fines, fees and “points” for driving infractions made it nearly impossible to have his license reinstated. The veteran had already paid some LFOs, so the court waived the remaining LFOs, reversed the guilty judgment and instead withheld adjudication of guilt, which wiped out the points for the traffic infractions.

In just a few moments, Judge Roberts was able to clear the path for the veteran to regain a driver’s license once the medical issues are resolved.

At the end of another hearing, a veteran wiped away tears. The individual told the judge that he had been trying hard, and he found help through a local organization where he was able to complete many of his public service work hours. A representative from the organization that accompanied the veteran also spoke on the individual’s behalf.

After hearing the veteran’s story and reviewing the court file, Judge Roberts was able to reduce the unpaid LFOs from $1,000 to $200 with an opportunity to work off the remaining amount.

Following the proceeding, Judge Roberts stated, “I am so glad that we were able to address these important issues and let the veterans know that we are listening to them and want to do the right thing for them in difficult circumstances. Helping them in appropriate ways often makes the difference in their ability to get back on their feet.”

This is an image of a bus that serves as the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' mobile unit.
The Florida Licensing on Wheels (FLOW) bus arrives at the Veterans Stand Down event, offering veterans an opportunity to reinstate their driver's license or obtain a state identification card on site with the mobile unit.

Melissa Bomar, the Twelfth Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Court Coordinator said, “It is such an amazing experience being able to assist veterans of various eras and their families with the essentials.”

“I saw veterans receive much needed dental attention and supplies, surplus clothing, many healthy food options and employment resources,” said Bomar.

“Witnessing the comradery, conversation, and community involvement was heart-warming,” said Bomar.

“I even connected with a community veteran that had been stationed at an overseas [forward operating base] that I had been stationed at 20 years later. The military community is small but very strong. Thank you to all the vendors, volunteers and veterans that came out to support the 2021 Sarasota County Veteran’s Stand Down,” Bomar said.

Judge Roberts emphasized, “The success of this day was made possible by the very hard work of many volunteers who made themselves available for five hours on a Saturday for this very important cause. Upon leaving the fairgrounds, you couldn't have any feeling other than a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.”

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