Most courtrooms in the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas hadn’t yet opened for normal business at 8:15 on a recent Friday morning, but onlookers filled the benches in Judge Mike Snipes’s court. Snipes sat erect, grasping a gavel and looking magisterial in his robes. The two tables in front of his bench were laden with cakes and breakfast tacos. A Congratulations banner, in gold and silver, hung behind him.
“Ryan Adams and Kinikia Burdine,” Snipes barked in a clipped voice that betrayed his history as an Army colonel. “Front and center.”
The roughly 30 people in the court, most of them veterans, stood and faced the back of the courtroom. Several smiled as “The Army Goes Rolling Along” began to boom from an iPod next to the judge’s bench. The doors flew open and in marched Adams and Burdine, in civilian dress. Everyone clapped. Snipes, who’d come down from the bench, shook their hands. He gave them each a plaque and said, “I am proud to say that you are reintegrated back into society.”
Many of the same people had been in this courtroom some nine months earlier, when Burdine had first stood before the court, mortified. A 32-year-old military-police officer who has trained Iraqi police in Baghdad, she’d been arrested for buying and using a stolen cell phone, the latest in a series of bad decisions she’d made since being released from active duty in 2005. She was offered a choice by a Dallas prosecutor: face a felony criminal charge, or enroll in Snipes’s “veterans court” program, where she would undergo closely monitored psychological counseling, mentoring by other veterans, and alcohol and drug testing.