photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Josh Walters, from left, Judge Sally Pokorny and Amanda Klopfenstein pose after a graduation ceremony for Douglas County’s Behavioral Health Court on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Walters and Klopfenstein graduated from the court program and had their charges dismissed.

Two people had their criminal charges dismissed Thursday in Douglas County after graduating from the Behavioral Health Court.

The court, an alternative to the traditional court system, was launched in 2017 and is designed for defendants who struggle with mental health issues. Success in the program means defendants have their charges dismissed and can even have them expunged, Judge Sally Pokorny said.

Candidates in the program go through four phases before graduating. The phases are stability, maintenance, wellness and lifestyle. Each phase takes one to three months to complete and requires weekly or monthly sessions with the Behavioral Health Court, depending on the phase. Candidates are regularly drug-screened and are given resources to find and keep jobs.

Graduating from the program Thursday were Josh Walters and Amanda Klopfenstein. Because they are hoping to move on with a clean slate, they and the court chose not to discuss any details of their original charges.

Klopfenstein moved through the program quickly and was one of the most successful candidates the program has ever seen, Pokorny said.

However, Walters’ experience with the program took a little longer, but at some point he had an epiphany and realized the people working in the program were there to help him, Pokorny said.

“I gave this court a hard time, I’m not going to lie,” Walters said.

Walters attributes his success in the court program to an attorney who works with the program, Brenda Clary. He said Clary was the one who convinced him that the court wasn’t out to get him.

“She provided me with that clicking moment,” Walters said.

The program requires defendants to do a “give back” project and volunteer in the community. Walters’ project involved helping local kids build remote-control cars, he said. The cars are a chance for kids to work with small electronics and could get them interested in a possible electrical engineering career, he said.

Walters said he is an artist and that he customized the boots he was wearing to Thursday’s ceremony with dozens of spikes and LED lights.

The graduation ceremony was attended by District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who said it was a joyful part of her job.

Other attendees included representatives from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA and various Douglas County District Court staff.

“It’s a great opportunity for anyone who has made a mistake, and everybody has made a mistake,” Walters said of the program.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Josh Walters gets on Judge Sally Pokorny’s level while celebrating Walters’ graduation from the Behavioral Health Court program on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Walters’ criminal charges were dropped after he completed the program.