Twin probes by the Navy and Marine Corps into the state of their legal communities continue, with approximately 35 experts picked to review their reports when they’re completed, the Pentagon announced on Friday.
Lt. Cmdr. Beth Teach, the spokeswoman for Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke, told Navy Times that the blue ribbon panel includes both uniformed and civilian legal experts but she said they must remain anonymous for now so that they can complete their work.
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas is spearheading his service’s investigation.
Both surveys are designed to review leadership and performance of their uniformed legal communities — both the Judge Advocates Corps and the Staff Judge Advocates — to ensure that they’re properly organized, staffed, trained and equipped to perform their missions.
“An Executive Review Panel has been appointed, which is comprised of both civilian and military subject-matter experts; they are gathering insights from other services, government agencies, and industry to ensure the widest possible perspective on the JAG Corps/SJA communities,” said Teach in a prepared statement emailed to Navy Times.
Teach did not indicate whether the Naval Criminal Investigative Service or other law enforcement entities that work for military prosecutors will be included in the surveys.
On Aug. 22, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer expanded an ongoing probe ordered by then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson into his Judge Advocate General Corps to include Marine JAGs.
Richardson and Spencer were reacting to a series of legal debacles in recent years overseen by attorneys in both of the services, highlighted by the acquittal of SEAL Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, 40, for a string of war crimes charges that collapsed during his July court-martial trial in San Diego.
But even before his trial kicked off, Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh sanctioned prosecutors for violating the defendant’s constitutional rights.
Part of Rugh’s punishment included booting Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, for his role in a warrantless surveillance program cooked up with NCIS agents to track emails sent by defense attorneys and Navy Times.
Allegations of prosecutorial and police misconduct plagued the case, with military officers and NCIS agents accused of manipulating witness statements; using immunity grants and a bogus “target letter” in a crude attempt to keep pro-Gallagher witnesses from testifying; illegally leaking documents to the media to taint the military jury pool; and then trying to cover it all up when they got caught.
Only 10 months earlier in a landmark decision, the military’s highest court ruled that the Navy’s top lawyer, Vice Adm. James W. Crawford III, unlawfully meddled in the case of a different SEAL — Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith E. Barry.
Convicted of rape, a charge he always denied and fought to overturn, Barry was convinced unlawful command influence by senior leaders put him behind bars, and the military’s top appellate justices agreed.
Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Scott W. Stucky, a retired Air Force colonel, determined that not only can the military’s most senior attorneys be held responsible for bogus advice that helps to unlawfully coerce a prosecution but that Crawford “actually did so in this case."
As for NCIS, Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau, Jr. is now Inmate 82986-083 at Federal Correctional Institution Allenwood Low in Pennsylvania, where he’s serving a 12-year sentence for public corruption.
Beliveau, 50, was a mole for Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis, the Malaysian tycoon who wooed many of the Navy’s flag officers with cash, lavish feasts and prostitutes in exchange for lucrative defense contracts in the Japan-based 7th Fleet’s area of operations.
Turncoat Beliveau admitted to keeping Francis abreast of potential criminal investigations in exchange for hotel stays and prostitution services, helping Fat Leonard stay ahead of the law for years.