TALLAHASSEE— Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Gregory Holder recently found himself in a place many Florida judges aspire to be in – the Florida Supreme Court. But he was facing a disciplinary panel, not hearing a case, after going above and beyond a judge's duties in helping a veteran.
Holder had taken up the cause of a young soldier, Clay Allred, who came before him in Veteran’s Treatment Court. Allred, who served with the Army National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and criminal mischief charges stemming from an August 2014 incident at a gas station. Holder sentenced Allred to one year of community control (house arrest) and then probation, then reduced the sentence to just probation. The judge also tried to help Allred get readmitted to a local college by writing a letter on his behalf to the trustees. He also tried to get the State Attorney's Office to set aside Allred's conviction.
The Supreme Court said those actions went too far. The court's judicial qualifications commission called Judge Holder in front of them to be reprimanded Aug. 31. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said the judge's actions on behalf of Allred went beyond the canons that govern a judge's conduct.
Holder is a staunch advocate for veterans, probably because Holder has an insider’s understanding of the issues facing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I myself am a West Point graduate," Holder told the Florida Record. "I was in for 29 years, and I retired as a full colonel in the Air Force.”
Holder has been hearing cases in Veteran’s Treatment Court for two years.
“I’ve presided over Veteran’s Treatment Court for the last two years, since we expanded to include felonies as well as misdemeanors," he said. "The court meets every other Friday.”
In February, the U.S. Department of Justice selected Tampa's Veteran's Treatment Court to be a pilot program to help improve veterans’ courts across the United States. Additional courts are being developed.
Many of those who appear in Veteran’s Treatment Court suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Allred also suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Holder understands the mental health issues facing returning veterans, particularly PTSD.
PTSD is not limited to veterans, but the high incidence of it among returning veterans has caused special treatment courts to become more prevalent in recent years. There are more than 300 such courts in America.
On Oct. 11, Holder and others will be in the White House, meeting with the U.S. Secretary of the Veteran’s Administration to discuss the Veterans Treatment Court, which is seen by many as a model for the nation.
Holder feels a great responsibility toward the veterans who appear in his courtroom and recognizes that his court is tasked with more than simply passing sentences.
“The American Bar Association modified their model canons to allow for the extraordinary responsibilities of the treatment court judges," he said. "The judge is required to go above and beyond to assure the defendant receives the appropriate treatment. It’s a different duty, a different response.”
He had hoped the Florida Supreme Court would modify its stance.
“The Supreme Court of Florida guidelines would appear to be in conflict with the charges brought against me," he said. "It was my hope the Florida Supreme Court would amend the judicial canons to reflect the nature and duties of the various treatment courts within the state of Florida.”