Review of Navy and Marine Corps legal community urges reforms

Posted at 10:47 AM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-15 17:42:54-05

NORFOLK, Va. - A review of the Navy and Marine Corps Uniformed Legal Communities is complete, and the resulting report is urging reforms in multiple areas in the wake of several high-profile legal cases.

The review was ordered by former Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer in 2019. While it was finished in December, it was not released publicly until this month.

Led by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, the review recommends changes in culture, organization, education and training, resourcing and unlawful command influence.

Legal community in the spotlight

The Navy's handling of cases, including the "Fat Leonard" corruption trials and the court-martial of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, has put the sea service legal community in the spotlight in recent years.

In reference to the "Fat Leonard" cases, the review states "there were some documented instances of judge advocates failing in their responsibility to provide timely, effective advice. Of particular concern to senior leadership was the lack of a systemic Navy JAG Corps response to the issues raised by" the cases.

When it came to the Gallagher case, the report references that "a senior trial counsel was disqualified from further participation in the case for prosecutorial misconduct."

Recommended changes

The review says changes are needed in five key areas. The first is culture, with a recommendation that a learning culture be embraced. The report states "the Navy JAG Corps should implement changes necessary to refocus its culture to one that values self-assessment, rapid feedback of lessons learned, introspection and accountability for its professional performance."

Organizational changes are also being urged, with an emphasis on current Navy JAG Corps organizational structure leading to inefficiency. It also suggests that more education and training.

"There is no structured, standardized approach to ensure that commanders and judge advocates receive relevant, timely legal instruction over the course of their careers," the report states.

The review also calls for more resources to be allocated to the legal communities, to address ineffective and inefficient systems and retain junior Navy and Marine Corps judge advocates.

Finally, the comprehensive review is highlighting urgent reforms needed as a result of recent unlawful command influence cases, which "have led to judicial findings of both actual and apparent unlawful influence involving senior line and JAG Corps officers." The report says unlawful command influence is an "over-arching concern," and is calling on "all cases, including high visibility cases, be litigated free from [unlawful command influence] or other potential tainting."

Navy leadership responds

Following the release of the comprehensive review publicly, top Navy leadership are responding to the report.

"It is precisely because our legal communities provide vital services, are necessary to promote the readiness of the force and successful mission accomplishment, that a review of this nature was warranted," said Admiral Robert Burke, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. "This comprehensive review was an opportunity for us as a Department to reflect on how we conduct ourselves and do business, in terms of military justice and legal support to our Sailors, Marines and their families."

"I am confident this comprehensive review will serve not only as a guidepost for our JAG Corps, but for our other Navy communities and sister Services as well," Burke added. "Our legal advisers must always be cognizant of the sacred trust given to them by the American people and we know it is a team effort to remain worthy of such trust."

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said "These recommendations are critical to improving readiness and performance."

You can read the entire Comprehensive Review of Uniformed Legal Communities here.