A matter that has been described as “a slap heard all around the world of military law” has called into question the appointment of a civilian judge to a military courts-martial appeals tribunal. Commentators say that the appointment could also affect dozens of cases in which that judge participated and ruled.
The relevant background facts surrounding the story are clear and can be succinctly told. An overly clogged case docket facing the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals led to the appointment of a retired military officer early last year to assist in clearing the judicial backlog. The new judge was appointed by the Air Force judge advocate general.
Congress has never set forth a specific process for appointing civilian judges, and questions surrounding the 2013 appointment resulted in the civilian judge being dropped from the court.
Not long thereafter, though, he was reappointed by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The secretary’s action was also questioned, and the civilian judge ultimately left the court for good this past October, with his appointment rescinded.
Before doing so, however, he ruled in scores of criminal matters, including cases resulting in convictions on drug charges, sexual assault, possession of pornography involving minors and additional matters.
The question now being asked is this: Have those convictions been tainted by the judge’s participation?
Government lawyers have sought to defend the appointment, but a media article referencing a brief they filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces stated that the filing was “bluntly rejected as inadequate.”
An attorney for an airman who was convicted of rape in a case in which the civilian judge participated has filed a case questioning the legality of the judge’s appointment.
We will keep readers duly informed of any material developments that arise in that litigation.
Source: The Kansas City Star, "Air Force criminal cases could be grounded," Michael Doyle, Jan. 17, 2014