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Free legal help available for Veterans facing municipal citations

Courtroom gavel in front of American flag

Veterans struggling with Milwaukee municipal citations can get help to have those citations resolved during a virtual event Nov. 29.

The Milwaukee VA’s Veterans Justice Program is teaming up with Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge Phil Chavez for the virtual event, which will be from 1-3 p.m.

Any Veteran who has a municipal citation from the city of Milwaukee is welcome to take part. Such citations include:

  • Traffic offenses
  • First offense drunken driving
  • Underage alcohol possession
  • Parking violations
  • Building code violations
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespassing
  • Health code violations
  • Animal control violations
  • Truancy
  • Theft/shoplifting
  • Loitering
  • Vandalism

This is only for Milwaukee city citations; Milwaukee County offenses are not included, nor are more serious offenses in which criminal charges are imposed.

Municipal citations can plague those struggling with unemployment and homelessness, and they can often be used as a barrier to obtain a driver’s license or access to housing, according to Michelle Watts, coordinator of the Milwaukee VA’s Veterans Justice Program.

“There are so many different things that can pose as a barrier,” she said. “Even though these things have not risen to the level of being criminal, people can still hold it against them.”

Chavez agreed.

“These non-criminal offenses can have a huge effect on their lives,” he said. “The goal is to help get them through the situation they are in and get them on the right path so it doesn’t happen again.”

Chavez said the event will be casual and low-key, and he said he wants Veterans to feel comfortable working with him.

“This will be a place they can trust,” said Chavez, who has done many similar in-person events. “They know they won’t get in trouble or arrested, even if they have warrants. It’s a safe zone.”

During the event, Veterans will meet with Chavez, and he will lay out options to help ease the penalties of the citations or to resolve them. This could include community service, repayment options or enrollment in programs that address mental health issues or drug/alcohol problems.

However, Chavez cautioned that it is not a free pass.

“It’s not amnesty,” he said. “There is no magic brush. The goal is to get them on the right track and to help them with things that can hinder them from getting help.”

And while the event can only address municipal citations, Chavez said he and his staff will be ready with resources to help Veterans grappling with other legal woes.

While Chavez has done similar events with Veterans, this is a first for the Milwaukee VA. If it is successful, Watts said she’d like to offer it on a regular basis.

“We hope Veterans take advantage of this opportunity, and we can offer this on an ongoing basis,” she said.

“We want to break down as many barriers as possible for our Veterans. Eliminating those barriers reduces the risk of them becoming more involved in the justice system and reduces their engagement with being homeless. This is an important piece of the puzzle that can often be overlooked.”

While Chavez is not a Veteran, he said working with Veterans is important to him.

“I love doing this so much,” he said. “I certainly respect what military folk have done for us. I’m grateful for them … and I’m very appreciative of working with the VA on this”

Watts returned the compliment.

“We are truly grateful for what Judge Chavez has done and continues to do for Veterans,” she said.


Learn more about the event here.

Veterans interested in taking part in the event should call Michelle Watts at 414-374-6147 or Abby Ziebell, 414-882-3375.

Click here to learn more about legal services available for Veterans.

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