Navy SEAL acquitted of murder sues ex-lawyers, legal nonprofit
By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: September 14, 2019
SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A San Diego-based Navy SEAL acquitted of murder in a closely watched war crimes trial this summer has filed a lawsuit against two of his former attorneys and a military legal defense nonprofit, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Texas on Friday.
In the complaint, Petty Officer 1st Class Edward R. Gallagher says his former attorneys, Colby Vokey and Phillip Stackhouse, along with the nonprofit United American Patriots, failed to defend his case properly. Instead, the complaint says, the attorneys attempted to delay the case in an effort to maximize fundraising for UAP.
Gallagher was acquitted of most of the charges against him during a court-martial this summer at Naval Base San Diego. He was accused by several SEAL teammates of killing a wounded Islamic State fighter and shooting civilians. A jury acquitted him of those charges and convicted him of posing for photos with the body of the deceased fighter, reducing him in rank from chief petty officer to petty officer 1st class.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday has yet to confirm the verdict or the sentence.
Gallagher was initially represented by Vokey, who is based in Texas, and Stackhouse, who is based in San Diego. In March, Gallagher fired Vokey, according to the complaint, and hired New York-based attorney Timothy Parlatore. Stackhouse left the case in the weeks after Parlatore came on board.
Gallagher also severed ties with UAP, which helps fund legal costs for servicemembers, and asked the organization to stop using his photo and case in its fundraising efforts.
Marc Mukasey, another New York-based attorney who also represents President Donald Trump, joined Gallagher’s defense team before trial.
In August, just weeks after trial ended, Vokey filed a complaint seeking up to $1 million in legal fees he says Gallagher owes him. He also sent a “notice of lein” to the Navy SEALs fund, another nonprofit that stepped-in to help Gallagher and his family.
Gallagher is accusing his former lawyers of malpractice because of their failure to pursue “an aggressive defense strategy” and engaged in “delay tactics” in order to maximize fundraising, the complaint says.
He also says Vokey is in breach of his fiduciary duty to him. As his former attorney, Gallagher says, Vokey is obligated not to act in any way detrimental to the outcome of the criminal case in which Vokey represented him.
Reached by phone, Parlatore said it was unusual for lawyers to sue their clients, and that by doing so, Vokey violated his obligation to Gallagher.
“His criminal case isn’t even over yet,” Parlatore said. “It’s not a good idea, generally, to sue clients — especially for a guy like (Vokey) who represents servicemembers.”
Parlatore said Gallagher wants Vokey to “leave him alone,” but also is concerned about other servicemembers who might seek representation by him and help from UAP.
“He doesn’t want (UAP) to take advantage of anybody else,” Parlatore said.
In an email late Friday, Stackhouse said he has not yet read the complaint.
“It’s disappointing it’s come to this, but I’m confident the court will sort it out in the most appropriate manner,” Stackhouse wrote in the email.
David Gurfein, the CEO of UAP, also said in an email early Saturday that he hadn’t read the complaint.
“I am not sure why UAP is even involved,” Gurfein said in the email.
Gurfein, speaking on behalf of UAP, issued a statement Saturday afternoon.
“Overall, UAP finds Mr. Parlatore’s filing very disturbing and distracting from all of the good work which UAP continues to do for fight for our Warrior’s Rights,” Gurfein wrote in the email. “Some of Mr. Parlatore’s defamatory and slanderous comments are irresponsible, inaccurate and potentially sanctionable, casting false accusations against UAP and Mr. Gurfein simply to make his claims appear emotionally stronger than they actually are in reality.”
Gurfein also distances UAP from Vokey, saying the organization had “no involvement whatsoever” in Vokey’s decision to file his complaint against Gallagher in August.
“Had Mr. Vokey consulted UAP before filing his arbitration, UAP would have asked that Mr. Vokey make it more clear that UAP is not a party to any litigation against the Gallagher family,” Gurfein said, adding that he thought the case will be thrown out.
“However, should we have to go to Court, I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight,” Gurfein said.
Bob Weimann, the chairman of UAP, published a post on the organization’s blog Saturday responding to the allegations in Gallagher’s lawsuit.
Van Shaw, a Texas-based attorney representing Vokey, did not address Gallagher’s complaint in an email email early Saturday. Instead, Shaw complained about The San Diego Union-Tribune’s attempt to contact Vokey for comment, writing that he was “taking the necessary actions to hold (the Union-Tribune) accountable.”