Azimuth Check: Getting Tough On Military Sexual Assault

March 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

A few random splatterings of brain goo on the blog page…

Military Sexual Assault

Can we just get this over-with and summarily convict every male who wears a uniform in the Armed Forces? While we’re at it, let’s make it retroactive to the American Revolution. I know, I know. I’ll pack my toothbrush.

Every 3-4 years since I started my involvement with the military in 1992, sabers rattled concerning the “epidemic” of military sexual assaults against females (particularly those serving in the military). At those times, Representatives, Senators, and Victim Advocates tout statistics that show that ungodly numbers of women in the military are subjected to rape and sexual assault during their tenure. However, I have yet to see a publishing of the source of the statistics or the methodology used to arrive at the percentages and numbers. Those are always conveniently hidden or omitted. A good example is the recent CNN opinion article authored by Representative Jackie Speier. Ms. Speier also notes several conversations and interviews with alleged sexual assault victims. The especially relies upon these alleged victims to support her claims.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that people, even those in the military, have been assaulted and even raped. That is, perhaps, the most reprehensible, disgusting crime (short of various crimes against children). An actual victim of sexual assault must overcome a litany of challenges, physical and mental, in their lives. My heart goes out to each of them.

That is, my heart goes out to everyone who was actually a victim of sexual assault.

Having said that, I have questions for Ms. Speier.

1. What independent source gave you your statistics? Were they independently verified? How carefully were the surveys conducted? Would they support your conclusions if scrutinized by a team of educated and bright economists?

2. As for the specific individuals whom you claim were victims of sexual assault, did you read the entire case-files? Did you read all of the evidence, including the evidence that might not be favorable to your political goals? Did you consider the evidence that casts doubt upon the claims of your “victims?” Did you interview the commanders/attorneys who supported a declination of prosecution to understand their rationale? Did you verify to see if those individuals considered all the evidence (remember, this includes evidence potentially unfavorable to your assertions)? Did you weigh it using the legal standards of probable cause and beyond a reasonable doubt?

Ms. Speier makes the following statement:

But the incidence of unpunished rapes will continue and so will the damaging effects these illegal acts have on troop morale and preparedness. This epidemic requires an overhaul of the military justice system.

Unpunished rapes? That begs another question: Ms. Speier, what of the cases you reviewed would have, undoubtedly, resulted in a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt? Now, this will require that you analyze all the evidence and obtain statements, not just through your alleged victims, but from the commanders, investigators, and military lawyers themselves.

Did you do this type of homework before declaring an “epidemic?”

I was directly involved with the survey that occurred in the Army in 2008-09, having been interviewed by the team sent to evaluate the effectiveness of military prosecutions of allegations of sexual assault. From this independent survey of all Army installations, the Army created a corps of highly-trained, experienced Special Victim Prosecutors and Special Victim Investigators.

Among us military defenders, the same comments are made after each round of evaluation: “Well, they’re stacking the deck against us again.”

When I prosecuted cases for the military, I was typically the only government counsel in the courtroom. Now, there are no less than two at the government table along with a slew of paralegals and investigators sitting behind the bar passing notes back and forth with counsel, working the case as a team.

Well, fine. We defenders are accustomed to change. We’ll adjust. Now, let’s get back to the criticism of the military’s policy from the perspective of the largest service, the Army.

I hear the same things all the time:

  • Commanders are soft on sexual assault.
  • There isn’t enough oversight on reported sexual assaults.
  • The Army doesn’t care about women.
  • Prosecutors are not involved enough and lack sufficient discretion.

So, let’s examine the typical life of an unrestricted report of sexual assault in the Army:

Note: There is an option in the Army for the “victim” to make a restricted report that does not get investigated if their wish is to receive support but not seek prosecution of their alleged attackers. They are given support through victim advocates, counselors, chaplains, and medical/mental treatment, but their report is kept confidential. The choice to make a report “restricted” is reserved to the alleged victim.

  1. Report made and referred to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). It is typically assigned at least two Special Agents, one of whom is a certified Special Victim Investigator.
  2. They investigate the case and gather all evidence relevant to the case (usually). This includes statements and any physical evidence. If necessary, they enlist the help of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. Search warrants (called search authorizations in the military) are obtained, if necessary.
  3. They present the case to a military prosecutor (usually a Captain). This individual determines whether further investigation is warranted or whether reasonable grounds already exists or whether the case lacks sufficient evidence to move-forward). This is merely a recommendation. They also consult with a Special Victim Prosecutor (usually a Major).
  4. The CID agents take their completed report to their boss, a Chief Warrant Officer. This individual also reviews the file, notes any deficiencies, and either deems it final or sends it back for further investigation.
  5. The investigation is sent to the immediate commander of the suspect (usually a Captain). It simultaneously is sent to the supporting JAG office. The military prosecutor consults with the Special Victim Prosecutor. They analyze the evidence and consider drafting charges. Before doing this, they usually consult with the Chief of Justice (usually a Major), the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate (usually a Lieutenant Colonel), and the Staff Judge Advocate (usually a Colonel). All of these people are lawyers. They all share their thoughts and input on the potential case.
  6. Charges are drafted and taken to the immediate commander. The commander and prosecutor usually discuss the charges, the nature of the evidence, strengths, and weaknesses of the case.
  7. Charges are formally preferred against the suspect. They are then sent immediately to speak to qualified counsel at Trial Defense Services.
  8. The preferred charges are then taken to the next-level commander (usually a Battalion Commander at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel). They are also briefed as to the nature of the case and evidence and allowed to give their recommendation as to final disposition. They usually enlist the advice of their senior enlisted advisor, a Command Sergeant Major.
  9. The preferred charges are then taken to the next-level commander (usually a Brigade Commander at the rank of Colonel). They are also briefed as to the nature of the case and evidence and allowed to give their recommendation as to final disposition. They usually enlist the advice of their senior enlisted advisor, a Command Sergeant Major. They almost always order an Article 32 Investigation. This is the equivalent to a civilian grand jury or preliminary hearing.
  10. Usually, a neutral Major is appointed to act as the Article 32 Investigating officer. They receive a neutral attorney advisor to assist with the proceeding.
  11. A hearing occurs in which the Article 32 officer must determine whether reasonable grounds exist to move the case forward to court-martial. Present at the hearing are the investigating officer, prosecutor, Special Victim Prosecutor, Defense Counsel, Accused, and a paralegal who records the proceeding. Evidence is considered in the form of testimony and documentary evidence. Normal rules of evidence do not apply. Anything that is relevant (and not cumulative) may be considered. This usually favors the government.
  12. The Article 32 investigating officer makes his recommendation. His recommendation is not binding. The recommendation is sent through the entire command for recommendation until it reaches the Commanding General (usually a Major General) who evaluates everything and additionally considers the recommendations of the Staff Judge Advocate and his senior enlisted advisor (Command Sergeant Major).
  13. OK, I’ll stop here…..you get the point, but there’s still a lot more to this process. I probably left a few bits out in my haste to get this section complete. Please forgive me for those.

So, let’s recap the players in this drama.

Involved are:

  • The alleged victim.
  • At least two investigators.
  • At least 5 lawyers. (one Captain, two Majors, one Lieutenant Colonel, and one Colonel). They do not order prosecution (or no prosecution), but their recommendations are strongly considered by commanders (at least in my experience).
  • One independent investigating officer (usually a Major)
  • Four commanders (Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander, and Commanding General).
  • Oh, forgot to mention that the average case also involves input from at least two Victim Advocates. Sorry, forgot that. They are usually civilian Dept. of the Army Employees who specialize in counseling and responding to victims of sexual assault.

As for the alleged victim, they are provided certain services regardless of whether allegations are founded or unfounded. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Victim advocates and the resources of the victim advocate office.
  • Chaplains and the chaplains office.
  • Family advocacy representatives.
  • Medical professionals at the on-post clinics and hospitals.
  • Mental health professionals who have special training in treating all types of PTSD.
  • They are allowed (even mandated by most commands) to take advantage of these services during duty hours.
  • If PTSD is diagnosed (or other mental/physical injuries), the individual may qualify for medical retirement and/or disability through the Veteran Administration.

So, my final question for Ms. Speier: What more would you like? How is the Army failing? Does the system lack oversight? Does it not involve informed, dispassionate decision-makers?

More often than not, the evidence does not bode well for the alleged victim. Every seasoned military prosecutor/practitioner has a story of someone who recants their story when it is discovered that it was concocted in order to save a marriage or reputation. When military lawyers and commanders examine a complete investigation, they look at all the evidence, even the stuff that doesn’t bode well for the prosecution. They try to weigh it as accurately as possible, often war-gaming how the evidence will play at trial.

Did you do the same, Ms. Speier?

Sometimes alleged victims don’t recant, despite the overwhelming evidence against their claim. Everyone has different motivations. We all know this.

Let me reiterate something. I feel for the true victims of sexual assault. I really do. However, I want to emphasize a word in the second sentence of this paragraph: true.

Now, I want you to imagine what it is like for some young man (or, could be woman, but the vast majority are men). He goes out one night, has fun at a club, and goes home with an attractive young lady. They mess-around. They have sex. Everything is fun for them. The next morning, she leaves.

As she is leaving from in front of the barracks, her nosy neighbors just happen to be driving-by on the way to church. They see her leaving the barracks area with disheveled clothes and messed-up hair. They send an email to her husband, on temporary duty at another military base.

Husband calls, enraged. The young lady panics. She says she remembers nothing. She was drunk. She was taken advantage-of. The story gets bigger, and the hole deeper.

Husband is angry. Husband wants blood from the dirtbag who raped his wife. He calls his command. The dominoes start to fall. Eventually, the young man from the club stands in front of his commander’s desk holding a paper with charges printed upon it.

Now, a young man finds himself in the Trial Defense Office. He trembles. This is the beginning of his journey. Everyone in his military unit knows that he is the “guy accused of raping a girl.”

You want to know what hell is like? Ask this guy?

And remember, this is only the beginning for him.

What kind of trauma does he experience? How has this changed his life? A night of consensual sexual pleasure has disintegrated into a completely altered existence.

At the end of the day, even if he is cleared of the charges, he is simply ordered to get back to work.

Oh, and he probably has less rank after he is punished for adultery.

There are no counselors. There are no advocates. Shame remains. Lost months are gone. The memory stays forever.

If we’re going to care for victims, Ms. Speier, let’s take care of them all. This young man is a victim of the false report. Know what else, Ms. Speier? Every woman who is actually sexually assaulted falls victim to the skepticism fueled by this young lady’s false report, too. I would argue that false reports of sexual assault are almost as harmful to true victims as the act itself.

Has anyone ever considered the possibility of an “epidemic” of false claims? Ms. Speier emphasizes the effect of an unpunished rape on good order and discipline. Well, what effect does a false claim have upon the same?

Returning to the more immediate victim, we have this young male soldier who suffered a horrible and only partially-repairable harm. Unfortunately, his story doesn’t inspire votes. It’s not the story you tell when you want to show that you are getting tough on crime and caring for suffering soldiers.

And that’s a damned shame.

On Totalitarianism

Most people abhor totalitarianism. That’s a good thing. The bad? Most just hate the totalitarianism of others and would prefer to substitute their own.

Afghanistan Murder Case Options: A Strategic Primer

March 17, 2012 Comments Off

From a trial law perspective, the United States v. SSG Robert Bales is not particularly exciting. Yes, I know that the acts themselves are highly newsworthy, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about things from the perspective of trial strategy. Here’s how it will go.

  1. Prosecutors try to prove that he a. committed the acts themselves and b. he knew what he was doing at the time he committed the acts.
  2. Bales’ defense team will try to prove that he’s nuts.

From reading most news reports (which, like you, is the source of all my knowledge on this case), proving Bales’ commission of the acts is relatively easy for the government. There are oodles of witnesses, and it seems there may also be an exculpatory statement or two. Either way, nothing suggests that proving the act will be difficult.

Then, we come to his mental state. In the military, the question will be whether he “lacked mental responsibility at the time of the offenses.” Defense must prove this with clear and convincing evidence. They will attempt to do this by showing his good service record, past behavior, his status as a family man, character witnesses to talk about him as a soldier and leader, possible erratic behavior (observed by others) shortly before the murders, and (most importantly) the opinion mental health professionals (psychiatrists and psychologists). The government will counter the defense with their own mental health professionals. Then, a judge or jury (court-martial panel) must decide whether they buy the “lack of mental responsibility” defense.

If one is found to lack mental responsibility, they are evaluated as to whether they are a danger to themselves or others. If deemed to be a danger, they are sent to a federal mental institution to receive treatment, therapy, and have the possibility of release someday (think Reagan’s would-be assassin)

I’ve tried it twice. I failed twice. (though, it was contributed to a particularly light sentence in one case (but my client was still found guilty))

It is tough. Though, it has a great chance in SSG Bales’ case.

So, this leads to two realistic outcomes.

  1. He is found guilty and punished harshly (death or life).
  2. He is found to lack mental responsibility and becomes great friends with John Hinckley Jr.

Let’s pontificate, from a strategic level (outside the trial and life of SSG Bales), about what happens with various options in the ultimate disposal of this case. Bear in mind that the people of Afghanistan are demanding (quite forcefully) that he be adjudicated on their terms.

The Command accepts that he lacks mental responsibility prior to trial and has him committed to a mental institution as part of a pretrial agreement.

This is always possible. They could acknowledge that he clearly snapped and that his prior combat stress, multiple deployments, worries about family and friends, and everything else contributed to his diminished mental wellbeing.

Likely Result: People of Afghanistan become red with anger and take their frustrations out on US service members stationed in-country. Violence erupts and deployed service members and innocent Afghanis suffer.

The Command tries him at court-martial and a military panel (jury) finds him to lack mental responsibility for the acts.

This could happen, as per the discussion above.

Likely Result: People of Afghanistan become red with anger and take their frustrations out on US service members stationed in-country. Violence erupts and deployed service members and innocent Afghanis suffer.

The Command tries him at court-martial at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord (Bales’ home base near Seattle). He is found guilty and sentenced to some punishment (likely life without parole).

Considering that we’re talking about the murder of many innocent people, this could absolutely happen after due consideration, especially if the jury does not believe that a relatively-senior Staff Sergeant should lose his composure in such a catastrophic way.

Likely ResultPeople of Afghanistan become red with anger and take their frustrations out on US service members stationed in-country. Violence erupts and deployed service members and innocent Afghanis suffer.

The command tries him at court-martial at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord. He is found guilty and sentenced to death.

Sure, it could happen. However,  how persuasive is a capital punishment system that hasn’t been utilized since 1961? As a practical matter, this means he’ll sit at Leavenworth until death from natural causes. This possibility, however, will take years to reach adjudication.

Likely ResultPeople of Afghanistan become red with anger and take their frustrations out on US service members stationed in-country. Violence erupts and deployed service members and innocent Afghanis suffer.

Considering the possible strategic outcomes, this leaves the Commanding General with only one thing to consider: Was this Soldier crazy and overcome by combat stress? If so, what can we do to help him (and his family) regain health (mental and physical) while also respecting the horrifying loss of life in Afghanistan?

Let’s hope he chooses the right outcome.

Marc Randazza, Driving the White Caddy

March 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

I realized that I made a glaring omission in my previous blog post. I never mentioned the First Amendment. Without it, how could I even tell you who gets a seat (or trunkspace) in the Caddy? It is really careless and negligent of me. So, I need to find a First Amendment champion to drive the car, because, without a driver, our First Amendment would fall into disuse and disrepair. That’s never good for a high-quality automobile.

Driver

In this day and age, there is really only one choice to drive our pristine, white, First Amendment DeVille. Marc Randazza.

There are several reasons.

Marc is unabashedly and unequivocally in support of First Amendment freedoms. His blog, The Legal Satyricon is a hodgepodge of First Amendment discord and discussion. Sure, there’s disagreement, but none of it is censored. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Second, I can only hope that, someday, I can write as well, as creatively, and as incisively as Randazza. After reading just one of his responses, I proofread one of my own motions. I almost vomited. Bringing the latin phrase Murum aries attigit into the legal lexicon, he shows no mercy to those who infringe upon First Amendment protections.

Finally, he does something else I admire. His vocation is something he truly loves, and he enjoys every day of it. So many of us in this profession trudge from case to case and client to client. His writing and attitude betray the fact that he loves what he does. He didn’t get there overnight. Instead, what you see today is a culmination of hard work and years of practicing his craft. He is honest and competent. This is what practicing law should be about. I’m jealous, but I’m working as hard as I can to get there. Someday.

Trunk

He can’t just ride-around in an empty Caddy. That would never do. So, who do we put with him? Hmmm.

I got it.

Righthaven.

The Righthaven case is one that epitomizes Marc’s scorched-earth policy when it comes to First Amendment trolls. It is a beautiful example of how fighting for First Amendment rights is as beautiful as a Monet and as tough as a WWE hardcore cage match.

Righthaven deserves to be locked in the trunk for weeks for trying to profit from censoring others on the internet. Well, that is before Randazza nuked them off the face of the Earth.

________________

UPDATE: It appears that others across the interwebs feel similarly positive about Marc. After writing this, I took a gander at Popehat, where they have a compendium of Randazza posts (copied below).

The Time I Unleashed Marc Randazza On The ABA
Marc Randazza, Hero
Marc Randazza Would Support Me, Right?
Righthaven, Liquified
Marc Randazza: The Mark of Excellence
Marc Randazza: 1st Amendment Lawyer Exemplar
Marc Randazza: Super Lawyer, Super Blogger?
Marc Randazza, First Amendment Lawyer, on the Rush Limbaugh Fiasco
Marc Randazza: A Sentinel For Free Speech
Marc Randazza — First Amendment Badass
Marc Randazza: Why I Went To Law School
Marc Randazza
Marc Randazza, The First Amendment’s Finest Friend
Rick Santorum v. Marc Randazza: A Dichotomy of Zealotry
Praised Be Marc Randazza
Marc Randazza – lawyer, blogger, free speech advocate
Marc Randazza, Among Other Sources of Inspiration
Marc Randazza, and some thoughts about the First Amendment
Marc Randazza, Floridian But Not Weird, First Amendment Defender, Vietnam Hero
In Praise of Marc Randazza
Marc Randazza: Lawyer Role Model
Marc Randazza’s Entertaining — And Effective — Legal Writing
Marc Randazza: Super Cool Attorney
Marc Randazza
“It’s Un-American To Silence Limbaugh”

Inaugural White Caddy Ride

March 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

Our first occupants are decided. The votes have been checked for hanging-chads. The busts are cast in bronze and mounted on the wall of the garage. The first class, of maybe many, or maybe a few, shall be revealed.

Opening the garage door, we see it. The majestic White Cadillac sits there, but a Caddy isn’t meant to sit. It wants to be driven, and occupied. Today, however, we must start with the baggage.

The Trunk

The trunk isn’t meant for humans, but one’s going in there. He deserves it, too. The trunk is where we put people we’re tired of hearing. They’ve grated on us, and we’re more than motivated to stuff them into the most uncomfortable, sound-proof chamber imaginable. Only the trunk shall do, and we’ll need a big’n for this load.

A 67 Coupe DeVille trunk should do nicely.

So, who’s going in there? Why, Rush Limbaugh, of course. We’re going to grease-up that huge gut and stuff him back in the trunk, cigars and all.

Why? Well, that should be easy. Quite simply, labeling an ideological opponent as a “slut” as a means of countering her logic and opinions screams of desperation, misogyny, and a horrible lack of critical thinking and manners.

I realize he’s already suffering. The press has not been kind, and sponsors are falling left-and-right, but we must never forget how unfortunate his words (and his chosen career is one of choosing words) are. The harm he’s brought to our chances of bridging a gap between liberals and conservatives in this country may be felt for years–even beyond our forgetting his poor choice of words as of late.

Now, Rush can’t drive from the trunk. What’s more, we wouldn’t want him driving this mean machine under any circumstances. We need to find a good person to handle both the car and the cargo.

Driver’s Seat

I want someone who can drive, drive well, and also manage the mass of redundant protoplasm in the trunk. There seems to be only one man to do the job. Joe Pesci.

No, not the “My Cousin Vinny” Joe Pesci. We’re going straight for the “Goodfellas” Joe Pesci.

As George Carlin said “Joe Pesci looks like a guy who can get things done.” That’s exactly what we need driving this wonderful piece of Detroit steel. Well, that and a guy who will undoubtedly scare the shit out of Rush.

Shotgun

The thing is, we don’t want Rush murdered. Perhaps, as in “The Godfather,” we should have assigned this one to Clemenza. Well, Joe’s already sitting there. So, perhaps we need to put a calming voice in the passenger seat.

We need a voice of reason in the front-passenger seat of our land-barge, and only one person is equipped to keep Joe in check. Jeff Gamso.

Jeff, the author of “Gamso, For The Defense” and former ACLU muckily-muck, is an outspoken critic of the death penalty, and he’s our one shot at keeping Joe from imposing it upon Rush. Jeff is dogged and persuasive. He isn’t flashy. He isn’t cosmopolitan. He’s himself, and that’s what we need to convince Joe to put the knife and gun away. He values human life, and he values fairness. He is a champion for both.

Note: He doesn’t know it, but I owe Jeff an apology for something that happened in the mid-1990s. I’ll likely talk about it in the future, but not now.

One could say Jeff deserves a spot in the backseat, where those who’ve accomplished a lifetime body of work rest and enjoy the ride. However, he’s still at it and appears, by all accounts, at the top of his game. At the same time, he’s accomplished more in just a few short years with his blog than most of us lawyers accomplish in an entire career.

Backseat

The backseat is reserved for those whose work is finished, or close to finished. It is a place of honor, rest, and relaxation. They need but to sit back and take-in the sights. They are those who we wish could share a cross-country ride with us, but who can’t (or won’t). To say their legacy has a profound effect on who we are today is an understatement.

(Sure, the backseat can also be used for more juvenile purposes, but not today. Today, we’re being adultish here at UA. Not that we’re above it, but today we’re trying to act our age.)

We start with John Steuart Curry. An American artist, he is most famous for his murals on the Kansas Statehouse walls. While his entire body of work is impressive, one creation had a lasting effect on this author.

In Kindergarten, I was subject to a field trip to the statehouse in Topeka. We walked in a large pack as a droll tour guide led us from statue to statue, office to office, painting to painting. Eventually, we rounded a corner to see a mural entitled “A Tragic Prelude.” I stopped, gazing up. It depicted a larger-than-life John Brown surrounded by symbols of a time called “Bleeding Kansas” prior to the Civil War. The mural is violent and symbolic, showing hatred of war, the fallacies of man, and a bit of tenderness and allusions to rugged individualism. You could look at it for hours and not see everything there is to see.

In the background, a tornado rages, moving slowly to destroy everything, good or bad, that man created.

People love to minimize the talent and scope of American artists (particularly painters). I say they’re wrong. I say John Steuart Curry is one of many who proves them wrong.

Finally, John S. Curry is joined in the backseat by a person who I idolized for most of my adult life, Buck O’Neil.

Buck was not a politician or an inventor or a soldier. He played baseball. He played in a segment of baseball called the Negro Leagues and managed one of its most storied franchises, the Kansas City Monarchs. After integration, he became a scout for Major League Baseball.

More importantly, Buck O’Neil helped to found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the old Kansas City jazz district. It is a wonderful place, oozing with history and lessons in life, perseverance, and acceptance.

Most importantly, Buck was a wonderful, truly wonderful, human. He found no time to criticize or complain. Instead, he effected change by accentuating the positive and assuming the best of all people. He sacrificed none of his life to negativity, though we would sympathize if he were bitter for some of the things he saw in his life.

When he witnessed a man at Minute Maid Park snatch a home-run ball from above a young child, most of the crowd condemned and booed the man. Buck didn’t. He presumed the man had another child to whom he’d present the ball. Assuming that the man was a selfish prick never entered Buck’s mind. That’s how you enjoy a life. Buck didn’t tell us. He showed us. (For a fantastic account of Buck, please, please, read The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski. It is wonderful, no matter who you are. Joe is a great writer, and Buck is a great person. That’s all you need to know.)

I try to be like Buck. I really do. I hope that, someday, I am.

So, I watch the full Caddy depart with it’s full compartments. The occupants seem different, but they aren’t. They’re all decidedly and completely human, and that, my friends, makes for one helluva journey.

Still with the Patience of a Saint, After All These Years

March 13, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve talked about Colonel Charles Williams, the Garrison Commander for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, before. Essentially, he is a sort of “city administrator” for the fort, managing everything from residential water delivery to civilian personnel systems. Essentially, he keeps the fort a pleasant and hospitable place to live and work.

Previously, I noted how he opened a Facebook page for himself and the Garrison Command as a means of sharing and disseminating information. In many ways, it became a beast of its own. For me, it is a constant source of comic relief and an indication that the man has the patience of a saint.

I’ve seen the daily schedule for a couple of different Garrison Commanders. They are insanely busy in managing endeavors that can best be described as a herd of cats. This doesn’t stop a few folks who think he has the time to sit and act as the post information desk.

A brief check today verified that it’s still going as strong as ever, and our Colonel is broadening his scope.

First, he helps the curiosity of a young lady who’s too lazy to Google “what to do if a tornado hits my house.”

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Next, he assists in determining the schedule for Lent services for someone too lazy to check the Fort Leonard Wood Chaplain’s webpage.

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Then, he helps a young lady who is desperate to know whether someone has been promoted to Sergeant First Class (I assume her husband, in the picture). Needless to say, her husband has access to the information via his secure Army Knowledge Online account. Finally, as the Garrison Commander, COL Williams has no influence over this process.

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Next, he’s concerned about fitness, as is evidenced by his answering of this inquiry for someone who is too lazy to Google the Fort Leonard Wood gym and call the manager.

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Then, he responds to an individual who is very concerned about the installation flag being flown at half-staff.

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And, the same guy seems to have an ongoing, regular concern.

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Colonel Williams responded with just facts. That’s just fine. Now, if I were the Garrison Commander, I’d respond as such:

Nate, I admire your interest in the flag flying at half-staff. Most people just drive-by and assume that someone is being honored or some federal holiday. They could care less. Not you. I appreciate your need for detail and understanding.

However, I must ask that you please report to the hospital and inquire as to tobacco cessation classes because that huge lipper you’ve got going can’t be healthy. It appears to have it’s own gravitational pull. In fact, I can taste the Copenhagen through the computer screen. The amount of snuff used for that one lip-full is enough to sate the nicotine cravings of some small countries. Get help, or you’ll soon have a tumor the same size as your current fatty.

Finally, always nice to see someone secure enough in themselves to wear a confederate flag hat.

You stay classy, Nate.

Most illustratively, he addresses concerns over “pink slime” in lunchroom cuisine. Mind you, the schools on Fort Leonard Wood are not controlled by the Army or Department of Defense. Instead, it is part of a local school district answering to an elected Board of Education. Once again, a simple Google search…

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Frankly, I love pink slime, but you’ve gotta admire Hildie for her steely resolve. Anyway, pass the pink slime, please.

And, finally, he’s always a sure bet to help get a picture of Privates in training.

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Try Every Case

March 12, 2012 Comments Off

Every group of young lawyers has discussed the same topic at one point in their “Hey guys, let’s go to lunch” careers. What if we refused to bargain cases and force them all to trial?

Oh, it sounds amazing to those young, bright-eyed lawyers. We could turn the justice system and prosecutors on their ears. Wouldn’t that be great to “crash the system?” Ultimately, though, we returned to work and a more experienced lawyer bludgeoned us with the time-honored concept of “If you ever confuse your interests with those of your client(s), I’ll smack the shit out of you.”

Then, we go back to work, realizing that we were silly and immature. Now, the NY Times enters the lunchtime conversation with an article by Michelle Alexander (never a criminal-defense lawyer, as far as I know).

Several bloggers already weighed-in, and I’ll let their statements address this concept fully.

First, Brian Tannebaum with a fairly simple directive:

And so now the New York Times has an article about the notion discussed by every PD and private criminal defense lawyer at every bar since the beginning of plea bargaining, of trying every criminal case in order to collapse the system.

Here’s my response:

Shut the f*ck up.

Then, Norm Pattis is a bit more instructive in his assessment:

Only fools, the naive and bad propagandists look for “justice” in the criminal courts. Clarence Darrow nailed it a century ago: “There is no justice in or out of court.” All that exists are interests. A criminal defense lawyer who puts his sense of justice ahead of his client’s interest has no business appearing in court. None.

Then, Gideon, a public defender in Connecticut, thumps Ms. Alexander squarely between the eyes:

Only someone who hasn’t had to repeatedly stand by clients as they are led away to serve weeks, months and years would offer up those same clients as lambs to the slaughter. Only someone who purports to be a civil rights lawyer but uses the phrase “court-appointed lawyer” when “lawyer” would suffice would propose an idea to destabilize the system at the expense of real, living, breathing people without acknowledging the disastrous consequences.

Yep, got it.

Rasslin’ with Identity

March 12, 2012 § 7 Comments

OK, here you go–a secret about me. I grew-up watching rasslin’. No, not wrestling. Rasslin’.

I’m not talking about the fancy pyrotechnic, fake-tanned, steroid-filled, high-quality-production stuff you see today. I’m talking about the stuff that occurred in the Topeka Municipal Auditorium and the St. Joseph Civic Arena on a stained, canvas mat in the middle of a smoky, sweaty, cinder-block auditorium. I never saw WWE or WWF or WCW as a kid. The rabbit ears on our little rural television only received All-Star Wrestling or other productions of the Central States Wrestling Association. Occasionally, we were lucky enough to see a production of NWA on a Saturday late morning.

My father and I watched these gladiators religiously, with equal parts laughter and cheers. It may not be refined or cosmopolitan, but it was fun.

Thinking back on those weekend shows, I realize that the men running-around in ill-fitting briefs symbolized much about our culture and society. Even more, I realize they establish certain categories that describe much about different segments of the legal world.

Sure, all lawyers are different, but, if we look carefully, we can compartmentalize the legal population into sub-groups based on their abilities, desires, aspirations, and methods.

Here are the groups as I see them.

Group 1: The Blue Collar Everyman (Harley Race, Bulldog Bob Brown, Bob Geigel)

Bob Geigel and "Bulldog" Bob Brown

These guys didn’t worry about tans. They could care less about frills and fame. They just worked hard day-in and day-out, trying to make the most of their life. They didn’t worry about the latest fashion in New York or trends on the West Coast. These guys worried about the next match and the next opponent.

Often, things got dirty and bloody, but that didn’t bother them. In a way, they preferred it that way.

Bob Brown, Bob Geigel, and Harley Race are pioneers in this segment. They are the everyman, sharing traits of men working in factories and farms everywhere. Just as easily as you see them execute a thunderous knee-drop on an opponent, you can see them operating heavy machinery on a construction site.

You’ve also seen lawyers like these guys. They muck from case to case, working hard, ignoring the cameras, limelight, and fancy distractions. They aren’t the prettiest, but they sure get the job done.

Honorable Mention goes to my second favorite rassler, The Freight Train, Rufus R. Jones. Famous quote: “My name is Rufus R. Jones, and the “R” stands for guts.”

Group 2. The Pretty Boys (Ric Flair)

Ric Flair in Seoul, South Korea. February 10, ...

Ric Flair. Image via Wikipedia

Guys like Harley Race slogged their way though the wrestling scene. Others made it with bleach-blonde hair, fancy robes, sequins, and an occasional cheap-shot. That’s this next crew. Sure, they found a lot of success and fame, but it came at the expense of the everyman.

Ric Flair is an icon in rasslin’, but he did so by bringing the bling to the ring. Sure, he partnered with some blue collar types like Arn Anderson when the Four Horsemen were formed, but he still remained true to his fancy-pants roots to the end.

You’ve all seen lawyers like this. They dress fancy, they drive fancy, and they speak fancy, but their main concern, once you get to know them, is just being as fancy as they can be. They want to do well, and many also want to help clients. Many become fantastic courtroom advocates, but their appreciation for ruffles and feather boas make the everyman (wearing an off-the-rack suit) want to vomit.

Group 3: The Acrobats (Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka)

Bouncing from ringside to ringside, you can’t keep track of these guys. One minute, they’re writing a motion, the next, they’re in court arguing for bail. They do flips, handstands, and fly around the courthouse like a superhero.

The Superfly amazed rasslin’ fans everywhere with his acrobatic, high-flying style. Fellow rasslers watched with awe as he performed physical feats previously thought impossible.

Really more of a variant of their Blue Collar brethren. These are the guys with superior gifts and talents. Us ordinary guys look at them in amazement. Yet, they are amazingly humble and willing to help others. Sometimes, they receive due praise and recognition for their abilities, but sometimes they work relatively anonymously, one client at a time. Either way, you’ll never hear a complaint exit their lips. Each day is a new adventure for them.

Honorable Mention goes to the most underappreciated influence on today’s rasslin’: Mexican Luchadores. They are the perfect blend of Blue Collar and Acrobat. If you find a lawyer with these traits, you’ve found the perfect attorney.

Group 4: The Horizon Gazers (The Rock)

These guys don’t really add much to their current profession, just enough to hopefully be noticed by those outside the gate.

The Rock (my only reference to the more modern rasslin’ productions) made quite a splash as he ascended to the championship, but he never seemed like his heart was into the game. He always seemed more focused on the next career–one hopefully in Hollywood. He got there, but many with similar aspirations don’t. Guys like this either make it big or fizzle in a pool of self-pity.

You’ve all seen lawyers like this. You see them at the courthouse working for clients, but they never seem to have their heart 100% in their cases. These are the guys who really want to put “CNN” or “Fox News” into their credentials. To them, the pinnacle of the mountain is being mentioned in the credits of a “Law and Order” episode as special consultant. Clients and the practice of law are merely stepping stones for their real goal.

An extreme example of horizon-gazing is Nancy Grace, who practiced law just long enough to become the hallmark of Georgia prosecutorial misconduct prior to her current vocation of crying fitfully at cameras.

Group 5. The Yappers (Jimmy Hart and Captain Lou Albano)

Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart

They’ve never wrestled a day in their lives, but Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart and Lou Albano will talk until you die of bullshit consumption. They run around the ring, squawking and crowing. They piss-off the crowd, distract the referee, and annoy the rasslers.

You know these guys. They’re out there talking about their lawyering prowess and how bad the judge sucks and how they can woo any jury they get. The mouth never stops.

These are the guys who brag about their “win” percent. When you inquire further, they eventually reveal, begrudgingly, that the reason they never lost a case is because they never tried a case.

Sure, you want to smack the shit out of them, but they are occasionally useful as comic relief at bar functions.

Group 6: The Activists (Norman Smiley)

I never got Norman Smiley. He arrived on the scene as an effeminate addition to the rasslin’ lineup. It seemed like the production was attempting to make a statement, and the effort became bizarre with finishing moves named the “Big Wiggle” and “Smiley Spank.”

In the end, this was a forced attempt at some sort of social activism (I think, but I’m still not entirely sure), but, thankfully, his tenure is entirely forgettable.

You’ve seen these guys as lawyers, too. The arrive unannounced at various events, screaming about how they are going to effect change in the establishment. They arrive to recruit others to join a plot at being “game changers” and forcing a complete reboot of a system (whatever that may be). Generally, they are met with greetings of “Ummm, who the fuck are you, dude?”

They fail to see all sides of an argument and are entirely oblivious to their lack of insight.

They make some noise and then fade-away as their monetary and motivational reserves wane. Eventually, someone at the local bar meeting says “Hey, what ever happened to _______?” Then, laughter ensues.

It’s a Solo Thing

March 8, 2012 Comments Off

Jordan Rushie wrote a fantastic anecdote on the Philly Law Blog about the life of a small firm criminal-defense lawyer. It’s a wonderful read. Please check it out, and don’t invoke the principle of TL;DR. Trust me.

On the strength of that post alone, he may get a seat in the White Cadillac, but not yet. There’s a bit of a line ahead of him.

Now, if he’d like to strengthen his resume’, the timely purchase of a Philly Cheesesteak for a Kansas lawyer could prove persuasive when I’m in his neck-of-the-woods in December.

A Conversation: Pro Bono X2

March 7, 2012 § 9 Comments

Ah, WordPress. I prepared a nice opening drive for the White Caddy. The seats were full. Then, the page changes to something freaky and WordPress updated my 3000+ word post into a pristine, white canvas.

So, that will be delayed since I have real work to do. In the meantime, here’s something for you to discuss amongst yourselves.

Quick background: If a person is accused of a crime in the military, they are entitled to a defense lawyer from their service’s trial defense office. It is similar to a public defender in many ways, but there are two key differences.

1. Military members are assigned military counsel regardless of income. If the lowest private is accused of a crime, they receive a free military lawyer. If the highest general is accused of a crime, they, too, get a free military lawyer. No questions asked.

2. Suppose a person hires a private lawyer to present their defense. They do not lose military counsel. In this way, they get two for the price of one. The military counsel is required to remain on the case and act as co-counsel.

OK, now, here’s the situation, and it happens a lot.

First, a service member is accused of a crime. They receive assigned counsel for free. Assigned counsel will occasionally recommend a plea agreement. This is often sound advice.

Second, client hates the idea of pleading guilty. In turn, they decide to hate their assigned counsel.

Third, they begin calling civilian lawyers. Sticker shock inevitably ensues.

Then, they ask the question they learn through diligent searches of the Googles: “Do you know anyone who will take my case pro bono?”

My answer is truthful. “No, I don’t. The lawyers who I know that take cases for free (myself included) do not provide those services to individuals who already have one free lawyer.”

The conversation ends on this premise.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Lawyer or non-lawyer, I’m curious as to the opinions of the 5-10 readers I have out there.

Are we too hard-hearted? Is there no such thing as too much pro bono publico?

Or, do you subscribe to the philosophy of “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit?”

The floor is yours.

The Garage Door Just Opened

March 5, 2012 § 6 Comments

Something new is arriving at UA. I expect you to be completely underwhelmed.

You might call it a Hall-of-Fame of sorts. I disagree. Halls-of-Fame have fame to give, or bestow. I have none. This is more of a recognition. It’s an acknowledgment of a person’s place in one’s thoughts, development, or considerations.

You can't help but notice.

So, what do they get? What is this recognition? It’s a place in the White Cadillac.

My childhood, one in which the World War II Generation called the shots, is remembered for many things, but the cars were particularly noteworthy. They were huge, Detroit dinosaurs. Hockey could be played upon their expansive hoods. Doors, as big as the average queen-sized mattress, creaked and groaned as they opened and closed. These were the latter-day giants of an era where the most important choice among consumers was Regular or No-Lead.

Many could afford the Ford LTD, a powerhouse family-mobile. Others preferred the Gran Torino. Some chose upgrade Lincolns, or one of the many Buicks (oh, those WWII-ers loved, LOVED their Buicks).

Yet, a chosen few bought Caddy’s. Some preferred the Brougham as a practical upgrade to the average family-mobile. Yet others preferred something that made more of a statement, like a coupe DeVille (60s and 70s era). Yep, I’m talking the Boss-Hogg-mobile. It’s mere presence stated, “I own this town.”

Most who drove these amazing machines did, indeed, own their respective towns. Through this, emblematically, I give a key to the city, of sorts, to the individuals granted seats in this majestic vehicle.

So, UA now has it’s own Caddy. Everyone’s is different. As stated, mine is a land-whale DeVille. Others may choose one of the more modern BMW-competitors. Yet others prefer the 50s and 60s barges with fins and bling. Everyone’s preferred Caddy is different, but the spirit is the same.

Those earning a ride in the UA White Caddy will be varied. Some will be saints, while others sinners. Some may do good, while others cause suffering. Some may contribute to the legal field, while others tread elsewhere professionally. Some may be loved, others may inspire hatred. Some will be honored, some will be vilified. How do we know where they stand? Location, location, location.

One thing is for sure. They all did something we notice. They shaped us through grandiose deeds or their malevolent failings. Some may have a mix of both. Some may be here for a lifetime of work. Some may be here for mere moments in an otherwise unremarkable existence. Like everything on this blog, it all depends.

One thing, however, will be sure. They will all be decidedly human. Like those beautiful machines from old-Detroit, there’s room for everyone inside.

You been to Bat Country?

March 2, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve noticed over time that there seems to be some confusion over what I mean when I say “Bat Country.”

I can tell you decidedly that it has nothing to do with Kansas, which has relatively few of the rodents.

No, duty in Bat Country was assigned to me by Dan Hull in Spring 2011. We talked about it several times. While I’d already read plenty of HST, I read again. Always instructive.

So, where is Bat Country? You might be there. You may have never been there.

Ever walked into a room and then wondered how the hell you got there, and why? You were there.

Ever been in a courtroom conducting cross-examination, and you found yourself wondering where to go, and you rocked back and forth, looking around, analyzing the pile of the carpet, wishing someone would get you drunk, or alternatively just kill you? You were there.

Ever find yourself in a spot (literally or figuratively) where you know that one move could mean the difference between amazing success and disastrous defeat? You’ve been there.

Some people hate it. Others love it. I’m one of the latter.

Nobody stays forever. Even the ones who love it crawl out occasionally for the purpose of redeveloping the desire to go back.

When you’re there, you always have a briefcase. What’s in it? Well, that’s nobody’s business but yours.

So, there you go. For those of you who want to stay, welcome. For those of you who don’t, best you just keep driving through, at the speed limit, and don’t stop.

I’m Sorry, Did I Hear You Say Gunboat?

March 1, 2012 § 8 Comments

Specially designed for routine interdiction operations and large-scale invasions.

Oh, Texas. Haven’t you ever seen the movie “Blue Thunder?” Sure, it wasn’t the finest of cinematic creations, but it still had a very clear message about police, civil rights, violence, and the use of force.

Perhaps it’s time we refresh the premise with a remake, just to remind them that there are no foreign Armys preparing to cross the Rio Grande. Via CNN.

Next month, the state’s Department of Public Safety will deploy the first of a fleet of six gunboats on the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between the state and Mexico, CNN affiliate WFAA-TV reports.

The 34-foot-long boats, each powered by three, 300-horsepower outboard engines, will have bulletproof plating and six machine guns apiece, not unlike the river patrol boats the U.S. Navy used during the Vietnam War.

OK, Vietnam was a war (thought not officially declared). The US faced both non-unifomed insurgents and an opposing, organized military force. This is for something far more sinister, that War on Drugs. The best defense against drugs? Evidently three 300-horsepower engines. One or two 300-horsepower engines would mean certain failure in this war.

So, overall, what is the rationale?

“If you’re trying to suppress organized smuggling activity, there’s no substitute for putting people on the ground,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw said at the December ceremony. “The way they’re operating right now, you need them on the water as well.”

Wow, ummm, good for you guys. Those machine guns should be handy, but aren’t you leaving a lot to chance by not throwing-in a few anti-armor missiles? After all, putting people on the ground means nothing if they aren’t capable of creating large craters in that same ground.

Fine. Let’s get to the bottom line. Overall, what is the message they’re sending?

“It sends a message: Don’t mess with Texas,” Jose Rodriguez, a regional commander of the Texas Department of Safety, told WFAA.

Indeed.

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