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Donation of law books meant to aid defense in Allegheny County Veterans Court

| Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 11:45 p.m.

In a move to strengthen Allegheny County Veterans Court, the district attorney's office said on Wednesday it's donating 10 law books to Duquesne University law students who will help a supervising attorney defend veterans in the program.

The county's veterans court, run by Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola, is in its third year and focuses on treatment-style sentences for veterans accused of crimes. The sentences are meant to stress rehabilitation over incarceration.

“We should do a lot more for our veterans,” District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. told a roomful of judges, law students, professors and former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam veteran and advocate for veterans.

Several Duquesne law students who will defend veterans in the specialty court said they are excited for the opportunity.

“As a kid, I was always intrigued by the military, but it wasn't until later that I realized the great service they provided us with,” said Rob Bosilovic, 23, who recently finished his first year of law school. “I want to try and do everything I can to help people who helped us.”

The judge said prosecutors have the final say about who is eligible for the veterans court, but typically only homicide and serious sexual offenses disqualify a defendant. About 60 veterans who have been arrested are in the program. About 40 vets have graduated from the program in the past two years.

As part of their sentence, they can receive alcohol or drug treatment, mental health treatment or other terms. They must return to Zottola periodically to report progress.

Attorney Dan Kunz, an adjunct professor at Duquesne who supervises the law student portion of the program, said the students are certified legal interns and act under his supervision.

“We take the burden off of the public defender's office,” Kunz said. “It gives the students a small taste of practicing law.”

Zappala authorized the spending of $1,750 for 10 books aimed at teaching the students how to handle cases involving veterans. Zappala used drug forfeiture money for the purchase, he said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886.

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