If you are reading this blog, you or someone you love might be debating the value of hiring a civilian attorney.
When Should I Hire a Civilian Attorney?
If you have been charged with a military offense or have been notified of an administrative separation board, you might be considering simply relying on the free military defense counsel being provided to you. If you are pending non-judicial punishment or under investigation, you probably have very limited options for getting legal advice. This blog post will show you the added value a civilian defense counsel brings to the table and how important it is to have the best possible team defending your rights and fighting for you.
The most common reason for not hiring a civilian attorney is the cost. It can seem counterintuitive to justify paying for a civilian attorney when the military provides one for free. You might be thinking about saving money in case you are convicted or separated. But with the nearly infinite resources the military can use to investigate and prosecute you, hoping for the best on the cheapest defense can be disastrous. When you are facing lifetime consequences like a Federal conviction, a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge, or the possibility of having to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life, it is important to have a long-term perspective. With so much at stake, the free defense might not be the best defense.
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Another reason that servicemembers decide not to hire a civilian defense counsel is that they trust the system and the military defense counsel assigned to their case. The military defense counsel likely wears the same uniform and is an officer who you have been trained to trust. In fact, this military defense counsel might have tried to persuade you NOT to hire a civilian defense counsel. Some servicemembers in this position do not realize that you do not lose your military defense counsel when you hire a civilian attorney. In fact, you retain all the benefits you saw in your detailed military counsel, but by hiring a civilian defense attorney, you gain a huge advantage for the following reasons:
Advantages of Hiring a Civilian Defense Attorney
Lauren and I both have lots of experience building and sustaining successful teams, from playing collegiate sports, where Lauren won a Division I National Championship with Stanford Water Polo, to the military, to our civilian law practice. I proudly served all over the country and all over the world as a Navy JAG for over twelve years. My wife, Lauren, served as a JAG for 10 years. As a prosecutor, I traveled in and out of combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE and other Middle East hotspots. I was the Senior Defense Counsel for two separate tours in Bremerton, Washington, and Norfolk, Virginia, in addition to working at the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) in Washington, DC and then defending servicemembers there and at the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). I have spent my career litigating courts-martial, administrative separation boards, boards of inquiry, Inspector General Investigations, EO complaints and more. I have worked with the Army in Ft. Lee, VA, and on trials in Kuwait and Bahrain, becoming the first to bring an Air Force counsel to work with us in Norfolk, and regularly defended Marines and Coast Guardsmen, in addition to Navy Sailors. Lauren primarily advised commanders before serving as the OIC of Naval Justice School’s Norfolk detachment, where she taught many of today’s senior officers, senior enlisted and legal officers how to do their jobs when it comes to military justice. With this experience, we are intimately familiar with the challenges of a military defense office, the strains on your detailed defense counsel’s time and the military requirements they still must fulfill, as well as the mindset of your command. As a civilian, we still have that experience with the military justice system but can focus on you and your case.
Some civilian defense counsel might try to convince a servicemember to hire them by arguing that military defense counsel are all inexperienced, or too overworked, or part of the system—be suspicious if you hear these arguments. The reality is that your best chance likely comes from bringing both a military defense counsel and civilian counsel together to fight for you, and you need those counsel to be willing to work together. Adding a civilian attorney to your case means that you can build a team that brings the best of both worlds.
- Defense Team: Think of any high-profile trial you saw on TV. How many times can you remember seeing just one defense attorney at the table with the accused? The resources of a military defense office are stretched thin. You are entitled to a free defense counsel, but will be lucky to get a second military defense attorney for the actual trial. This means that for some of the most crucial portions of your case, you will be one of many cases your solo detailed military defense counsel. You need your defense team fully invested in your case just as much during the investigation and pre-trial portions as the trial itself.
- Independence: One of the advantages of bringing a civilian defense attorney onto your team is that they are not constrained by rank. As a civilian defense attorney, I don’t have a rank, I don’t have a chain of command, and no judge is senior to me. I am not a peer or member of the same community as the prosecutor and can fight for you without reservation. Unfortunately, the military justice system has become politicized and your commanders are feeling the pressure. In fighting for clients against the system, I have made complaints against powerful senators trying to manipulate the system and violate the rights of my clients, the Secretary of the Navy himself, and have held numerous Flag and General Officers to their responsibilities towards those accused of offenses.
You deserve a team dedicated to defending you. With over a decade of active duty military service and hundreds of cases of experience, I can give you an unbiased evaluation of your case and help you prepare the best possible defense. Whether your issue involves non-judicial punishment, an administrative separation board, or a court-martial, I am ready to fight for you.
Ready to Hire a Skilled Defense Attorney? Contact Us or call (843) 202-4714.