SECNAV Spencer Expanding JAG Review to Include Marine Legal Community

August 22, 2019 6:35 PM
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks during an all-hands call onboard U.S. Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka on July 12, 2018. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – A review of the Department of the Navy’s legal system has expanded to include the Marine legal community, according to a memo from Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer obtained by USNI News.

“Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, in full coordination with the commandant of the Marine Corps, has directed an expansion of the U.S. Navy’s comprehensive review of the Judge Advocate General Corps to include U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocates,” read a Thursday Navy statement to USNI News.

“There is value in applying this review and its subsequent recommendations across the Department of the Navy. The review’s purpose is to confirm the uniformed legal community is structurally and organizationally sound and best supporting the good order and discipline our integrated naval force.”

According to a copy of the memo, “these reviews are intended to ensure the Navy JAG and the Marine Corps SJA legal communities are organized, manned, trained and equipped to support the Department’s mission.”

The review will be conducted in parallel to a review directed by former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson who earlier this month ordered a wholesale review of the Navy’s JAG Corps following a series of gaffes surrounding the trial of Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Eddie Gallagher. Prosecutors and NCIS agents attempted to spy on the defense team and a reporter covering the case. After the trial, other members of the government’s legal team were awarded citations that drew the ire of President Trump.

Richardson, who ordered the review carried out by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke, told USNI News that it was time to get a fresh perspective on the JAG Corps.

“I think it was just about time that we stepped back and took a look at the community, and it’s time for a vigorous assessment. And so we’re going to strike the right tone. We’re going to get a lot of different perspectives inside and outside the Navy,” he told USNI News earlier this month in an interview. “We’re going to put a nice concise time limit on this thing, we don’t want it to go on forever. And then we’ll get a product that I am absolutely confident will be very helpful in making sure that our JAG community, which is a small part of our Navy but a very important part of our Navy, is as sharp as they can possibly be in the service of our Navy and our nation.”

The Thursday memo gave a 15-day deadline to outline the scope of the review of both services and 90 days to complete a report on how well the Navy and Marine legal communities support the goals of the Department of the Navy.

Two former Marine lawyers praised the decision when contacted by USNI News.

“The Navy JAG comprehensive review came on the heels of a handful of highly publicized cases that involved perceived errors, gaffes, and unethical conduct by Navy lawyers. Like the surface force comprehensive review, which was spurred by the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions, I suspect these seminal events were merely the culminating points for concerns that have been building for a while,” Robert “Butch” Bracknell told USNI News on Thursday. “I don’t sense the same level of concern with the performance of the Marine Corps, though the Corps has had several high-profile embarrassments in military justice cases over the past few years which warrant a fresh look at the community of practice.”

Another former Marine lawyer said that the review into service’s legal community was a long time in coming.

“A review like this is long overdue, frankly. I’m hopeful that it will be conducted intelligently and honestly, but experience has shown that the government isn’t super great at self-reflection,” attorney Brian Bouffard told USNI News on Thursday.
“A lot of general officers and their staff judge advocates will need to be able to look at themselves critically, because that’s the level where moral courage tends to be in short supply.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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