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Hillsborough's veterans' outreach court provides free legal services, another way to say 'thank you'

“It’s a massive deal for me. Especially today,” said a veteran, who had a $350 fine cleared.

TAMPA, Fla. — Just a week ago before Veterans Day, Hillsborough County found another way to honor local veterans who may need some assistance.

At the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, three judges set up temporary courtrooms specifically to handle veterans’ cases. For some — it was a life-changing opportunity.

“Thank you. Thank you,” Michael Kirk told the court.

Kirk couldn’t help but celebrate moments after a judge waived his red-light ticket citations. The disabled Army veteran had racked up nearly $4,000 in fines and late fees trying to battle the tickets.

He lost his license and his livelihood in the process. Now, both have been restored.

“It’s independence and able to be employed again,” Kirk said. “I’m not working because of the situation. I wasn’t able to get back and forth to a job, if I got one.”

The makeshift courtrooms are all part of the annual veterans’ outreach court. Three local judges heard cases inside the Haley VA hospital.

Veterans not only got legal attention but medical and social assistance, too.

“Mental health. Psychological services. Housing assistance,” said Judge Daryl Manning, one of the three judges presiding during the one-day event. “That’s why it’s kind of a one-stop shop and it’s very beneficial to the veterans.”

“It’s a massive deal for me. Especially today,” veteran John Toborg said. “The fine was 350 some-odd dollars. It would’ve really set me back a long ways. And I think this is a great courtesy from the county to say hey, we know what you did, and it looks like you had problems let’s see if we can help you.”

The judges were not hearing cases involving violent crimes or felonies. No child support or tax cases, either.

But in addition to clearing traffic fines, they were able to waive some probation costs and, in some cases, misdemeanor warrants for issues like loitering and trespassing.

“We usually do it around Veterans Day and it’s our way of actually saying thank you to the veterans for their service to our country,” Manning said.

Hillsborough County Court also works with local attorneys willing to assist veterans at little or no cost. So, for those that might not have been able to make it out to this year‘s event, there are other programs specifically geared to assist those who have served.

For Kirk and others, it was a free service honoring their service.

“I thought this chapter in my life, the book was closed, but it’s been re-opened it now,” Kirk said. “I can still write some pages in my life. I can do a lot of things now that I thought the book was close to me. It’s open now. And I appreciate this.”

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