Sunday, April 8, 2012
Lawyers Fight Among Themselves Before They Fight The Opposition
Seattle-based John Henry Browne is the civilian attorney representing Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers. Attorney Browne wants to replace the military lawyer assigned to the case. They are having serious disagreements over how to handle the defense.
"You are fired, sorry, but we have much more experience than you," Attorney Browne, said to military lawyer Major Thomas Hurley. Major Hurley is an experienced military lawyer. He has handled more than 60 military courts-martial; three involved homicide charges; however, none were capital cases.
The Army assigns defense counsel such as Hurley to soldiers facing court martial but defendants also have the right to hire additional civilian counsel. The military assigned counsel is called the Detailed Military counsel (DMC). The hired civilian counsel is called the Individual Military counsel (IMC).
"Major Hurley is not a team player and has no experience in murder cases, we do," Attorney Browne has said. "We have gotten 17 not guilty verdicts in murder cases and have gotten life verdicts in all our death penalty cases."
Browne unleashed a unilateral public attack on the way U.S. prosecutors are handling the investigation into the shooting and accused U.S. authorities of blocking access to potential witnesses. There is also disagreement over the decision to put Bales' wife on the television talk show circuit.
Major Hurley believes making public statement on television before the trial "limit our options at trial or expose important witnesses to effective cross-examination that they would otherwise not have to face".
I faced similar situations when I was a retired officer Coast Guard Law Specialist representing Coast Guard members in Coast Guard Base New York in courts-martial. However, I never had to assert my authority as lead counsel, Individual Military Counsel (IMC). The Coast Guard always detailed the most junior and inexperienced military counsel to the members that I represented. They were only qualified to carry my brief case and take notes, and they knew it. They were content to observe and listen and sometimes offer a helpful comment. I had just retired, I knew the Uniform Code of Military Justice; I knew the accused; and I knew the judges and all of the members of the Prosecution team; so, I was better qualified to represent the accused. And the military counsels knew this, so , they never challenged my decisions in conducting the defense of the accused.
In the case of the Coast Guard Academy court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith there was similar tension and disagreement between CDR Merle Smith, (IMC) and LT Stuart Kirkby, (DMC). LT Kirkby was not even a Coast Guard Law Specialist. He was a Navy Judge Advocate General from the Naval Submarine Base at Groton, CT..
There was serious tension between CDR Smith and LT Kirkby. The tension and friction became so acute that it required several emergency sessions with the parents of Cadet Webster Smith to settle the issues. (THIS SUBJECT WILL BE TREATED IN DETAIL IN MY NEXT BOOK, THE SEQUEL TO CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and Lady)
There were disagreements about who to put on the witness list, who to call as a witness, who wouldl make the Opening Statement, who wouldl make the Closing Argument, who would argue which motion, which motions to bring, who wouldl examine which witnesses, who would make objections to statement and questions by the Prosecution, whether to give interviews to the news media, which questions to ask which witness; and , the biggest issue of all, whether to put the Accused, Webster Smith, on the witness stand. That is always a crucial decision. In the Webster Smith Case, it may have been the one issue decided the final verdict in the case.
This review is from: CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and Lady (Kindle Edition)
CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and a Lady: A Review.
I read this book. Judge London Steverson, the author, a 1968 Coast Guard Academy graduate, and retiree, did an outstanding job of parsing the facts of what is arguably a judicial tragedy.
According to the book, leaders at the Coast Guard Academy failed to follow the recommendation of the investigating officer, which was not to prosecute the accused of sexual assault, among other allegations, because evidence of the alleged crimes seemed insufficient; failed to follow procedures in responding to the defendant's Article 138 claim and failed to allow the defendant the customary grace period before reporting for confinement. There are a few other apparent missteps--like failing to instruct the jury that the defense does not have a burden of proof in criminal cases--that are capably documented in the book. Rather, according to the author, the Coast Guard Academy leadership chose to prosecute on the recommendation of a staff attorney in spite of the recommendation of the investigating officer the leadership appointed.
As for the defendant, some of his alleged conduct could, conceivably, call into question his judgment and discretion. To that end, he seemed to overlook a common, conspiratorial axiom: "There is no honor among thieves." As it relates to discretion, at his age he may not have heard the axiom, "Loose lips sink ships." The defendant was popular and athletic according to the book. These are traits that some others usually find attractive. Judge Steverson details how these traits attracted several cadets to the defendant. Consequently, one of the attractees had a mishap that directly involved the defendant and the two entered into a secret pact not to reveal the mishap because it could have an impact on both of their lives as cadets. Well, the defendant's second error seemed one of indiscretion because this particular attractee subsequently got wind of the tale involving the shared secret and turned her apparent affection into unabated vengeance. Not only did she turn to vengeance towards the once popular, now vilified athlete, but another five or six attractees also seemed to act in concert, according to the text. According to the author's account. All it took to convict the defendant was the allegations of sexual assault among other allegations.
The gist of the book is the author's plea to the Coast Guard to live up to the Constitution that its members, including the Court Martial's convening authority and the defendant, swore to uphold and protect. He pleads with Coast Guard Academy leadership not to substitute their personal feelings of how they think the world should operate for justice. The author asks them to remain faithful to this nation's long-standing creed of "Equal protection under the law." Finally, the author pleads with the Coast Guard Academy leadership to adhere to established legal procedures. Rather than answer the author's pleas to uphold and protect the Constitution, ensure equal protection under the law and adhere to established legal procedures, the author asserts the Coast Guard seemed to want to send a message to this cadet. Why this cadet? We may never know. He was talented, athletic and popular, but it is fairly certain most cadets are talented and athletic, even if not popular. Perhaps, the timing was wrong; perhaps the Coast Guard thought it was time to address the issue of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy or was it just bad timing for this cadet? That this cadet was the first cadet in Coast Guard history to be court martialed and had a distinguishable ethnicity is germane. Wrong place? Wrong time? You decide.
The author gives you a lot to work with. It is readily apparent the esteemed author thoroughly researched this matter and presented exhaustive explanations of law and fact. Transcripts of the legal proceedings are provided in the appendixes. This book is recommended to anyone interested in military legal proceedings or simple justice. The author's assertion that this case will live in infamy does not seem like an exaggeration. Only time will tell if it is the Coast Guard Academy's or the defendant's infamy.