Navy secretary calls for expanded review of Navy, Marines JAG Corps

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, seen here testifying at a Senate hearing in March, 2019, has called for an expanded review of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 23, 2019

WASHINGTON — Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has called for an expanded review of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps to include an assessment of the Marines’ Judge Advocates after a recent court-martial raised concerns about the service’s ability to handle legal cases effectively.

Spencer issued a memo Wednesday that directs Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to conduct a comprehensive review of their legal corps, calling it a “periodic review” to ensure readiness and their ability to support the Navy’s mission.

Spencer’s review expands upon a similar request by former CNO Adm. John Richardson, who called for a review into the leadership and performance of the Navy’s JAG Corps earlier this month after the turbulent court-martial of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher raised concerns about the service’s legal staff.

During the Gallagher court-martial, the senior trial counsel, Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, was taken off the case in June after concerns were raised by defense lawyers about Gallagher’s ability to have a fair trial when it became known Czaplak had participated in a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation looking into media leaks about the case. Czaplak was reassigned to a position at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this month.

At the same time that Richardson called for the review, he took over responsibility for Gallagher’s case, allowing him to oversee any post-trial actions, including sentencing. He also dismissed all charges against SEAL Lt. Jacob Portier for having a re-enlistment ceremony for Gallagher next to the dead body of the ISIS fighter who Gallagher was accused of stabbing to death when the prisoner was being treated for injuries. Gallagher was found not guilty of the murder. Richardson also decided not to allow any actions to be taken against Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, who confessed during Gallagher’s trial to killing the ISIS fighter. Scott was given immunity by the prosecutors to testify at the trial.

At the end of July, Spencer rescinded several military awards given to prosecutors in the Gallagher case after President Donald Trump directed him to do so. The president had tweeted the prosecutors were “ridiculously” given the Navy Achievement Medal after losing the case.

“I expect these reviews to provide detailed recommendations with respect to revising any relevant statutory and regulatory authorities, policies, resourcing, and any corrective actions necessary,” Spencer wrote.

The secretary has set up a panel of experts — supported by Navy and Marine Corps working groups — to conduct the review. The review’s results are expected to be provided to Spencer within 90 days.

“There is value in applying this review and its subsequent recommendations across the department of the Navy,” according to a Navy statement. “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.”

The scope of the new comprehensive review for the Navy and Marine Corps includes legal community training and professional development, organization and command relationships including oversight, and efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of legal services.

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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