Posts Tagged With: Merle J. Smith

Lawyers Fight Among Themselves Before They Fight The Opposition

Seattle-based John Henry Browne is the civilian attorney representing Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers. Attorney Browne wants to replace the military lawyer assigned to the case. They are having serious disagreements over how to handle the defense.

“You are fired, sorry, but we have much more experience than you,” Attorney Browne, said to military lawyer Major Thomas Hurley. Major is an experienced military lawyer. He has handled more than 60 military courts-martial; three involved homicide charges; however, none were capital cases.

The Army assigns defense counsel such as Hurley to soldiers facing court martial but defendants also have the right to hire additional civilian counsel. The military assigned counsel is called the Detailed Military counsel (DMC). The hired civilian counsel is called the Individual Military counsel (IMC).

“Major Hurley is not a team player and has no experience in murder cases, we do,” Attorney Browne has said. “We have gotten 17 not guilty verdicts in murder cases and have gotten life verdicts in all our death penalty cases.”

Browne unleashed a unilateral public attack on the way U.S. prosecutors are handling the investigation into the shooting and accused U.S. authorities of blocking access to potential witnesses. There is also disagreement over the decision to put Bales’ wife on the television talk show circuit.

Major Hurley believes making public statement on television before the trial “limit our options at trial or expose important witnesses to effective cross-examination that they would otherwise not have to face”.

I faced similar situations when I was a retired officer Coast Guard Law Specialist representing Coast Guard members in Coast Guard Base  New York in courts-martial. However, I never had to assert my authority as lead counsel, Individual Military Counsel (IMC). The Coast Guard always detailed the most junior and inexperienced military counsel to the members that I represented. They were only qualified to carry my brief case and take notes, and they knew it. They were content to observe and listen and sometimes offer a helpful comment. I had just retired, I knew the Uniform  Code of Military Justice; I knew the accused; and I knew the judges and all of the members of the Prosecution team; so, I was better qualified to represent the accused. And the military counsels knew this, so , they never challenged my decisions in conducting the defense of the accused.

In the case of the Coast Guard Academy court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith there was similar tension and disagreement between CDR Merle Smith, (IMC) and LT Stuart Kirkby, (DMC). LT Kirkby was not even a Coast Guard Law Specialist. He was a Navy Judge Advocate General from the Naval Submarine Base at Groton, CT..

There was serious tension between CDR Smith and LT Kirkby. The tension and friction became so acute that it required several emergency sessions with the parents of Cadet Webster Smith to settle the issues. (THIS SUBJECT WILL BE TREATED IN DETAIL IN MY NEXT BOOK, THE SEQUEL TO CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and Lady)

There were disagreements about who to put on the witness list, who to call as a witness, who wouldl make the Opening Statement, who wouldl make the Closing Argument, who would argue which motion, which motions to bring, who wouldl examine which witnesses, who would make objections to statement and questions by the Prosecution, whether to give interviews to the news media, which questions to ask which witness; and , the biggest issue of all, whether to put the Accused, Webster Smith, on the witness stand. That is always a crucial decision.  In the Webster Smith Case, it may have been the one issue decided the final verdict in the case.

http://www.amazon.com/CONDUCT-UNBECOMING-Officer-Lady-ebook/dp/B006VPAADK

 

 

This review is from: CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and Lady (Kindle Edition)

CONDUCT UNBECOMING an Officer and a Lady: A Review.

 

I read this book. Judge London Steverson, the author, a 1968 Coast Guard Academy graduate, and retiree, did an outstanding job of parsing the facts of what is arguably a judicial tragedy.

 

According to the book, leaders at the Coast Guard Academy failed to follow the recommendation of the investigating officer, which was not to prosecute the accused of sexual assault, among other allegations, because evidence of the alleged crimes seemed insufficient; failed to follow procedures in responding to the defendant’s Article 138 claim and failed to allow the defendant the customary grace period before reporting for confinement. There are a few other apparent missteps–like failing to instruct the jury that the defense does not have a burden of proof in criminal cases–that are capably documented in the book. Rather, according to the author, the Coast Guard Academy leadership chose to prosecute on the recommendation of a staff attorney in spite of the recommendation of the investigating officer the leadership appointed.

 

As for the defendant, some of his alleged conduct could, conceivably, call into question his judgment and discretion. To that end, he seemed to overlook a common, conspiratorial axiom: “There is no honor among thieves.” As it relates to discretion, at his age he may not have heard the axiom, “Loose lips sink ships.” The defendant was popular and athletic according to the book. These are traits that some others usually find attractive. Judge Steverson details how these traits attracted several cadets to the defendant. Consequently, one of the attractees had a mishap that directly involved the defendant and the two entered into a secret pact not to reveal the mishap because it could have an impact on both of their lives as cadets. Well, the defendant’s second error seemed one of indiscretion because this particular attractee subsequently got wind of the tale involving the shared secret and turned her apparent affection into unabated vengeance. Not only did she turn to vengeance towards the once popular, now vilified athlete, but another five or six attractees also seemed to act in concert, according to the text. According to the author’s account. All it took to convict the defendant was the allegations of sexual assault among other allegations.

 

The gist of the book is the author’s plea to the Coast Guard to live up to the Constitution that its members, including the Court Martial’s convening authority and the defendant, swore to uphold and protect. He pleads with Coast Guard Academy leadership not to substitute their personal feelings of how they think the world should operate for justice. The author asks them to remain faithful to this nation’s long-standing creed of “Equal protection under the law.” Finally, the author pleads with the Coast Guard Academy leadership to adhere to established legal procedures. Rather than answer the author’s pleas to uphold and protect the Constitution, ensure equal protection under the law and adhere to established legal procedures, the author asserts the Coast Guard seemed to want to send a message to this cadet. Why this cadet? We may never know. He was talented, athletic and popular, but it is fairly certain most cadets are talented and athletic, even if not popular. Perhaps, the timing was wrong; perhaps the Coast Guard thought it was time to address the issue of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy or was it just bad timing for this cadet? That this cadet was the first cadet in Coast Guard history to be court martialed and had a distinguishable ethnicity is germane. Wrong place? Wrong time? You decide.

 

The author gives you a lot to work with. It is readily apparent the esteemed author thoroughly researched this matter and presented exhaustive explanations of law and fact. Transcripts of the legal proceedings are provided in the appendixes. This book is recommended to anyone interested in military legal proceedings or simple justice. The author’s assertion that this case will live in infamy does not seem like an exaggeration. Only time will tell if it is the Coast Guard Academy’s or the defendant’s infamy.

 

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Categories: Military Justice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coast Guard Honors First Black Academy Graduate

United States Coast Guard Academy seal

United States Coast Guard Academy seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NEW LONDON, Conn. — The Coast Guard Academy in New London honored its first African-American graduate on April 1st with a new award that is named after him.

The Day newspaper of New London reports that CDR Merle James Smith Jr., USCG (Ret.) received the inaugural Merle J. Smith Pioneer Award at the Academy on Sunday, April 1st. The 67-year-old Mystic resident graduated in the Academy Class of 1966 and served 23 years of regular and reserve active duty in the Coast Guard.

CDR Smith was the first Black cadet to be admitted to the United States Coast Guard Academy. The Academy was founded in 1876.

This recognition is well deserved and long overdue. Honoring the first Black graduate honors all Black graduates. The Academy was founded in 1876. The exclusion of African Americans from the Academy from 1876 until 1962 is a tragic fact of American history. The meager resources allotted to Black recruitment is just as tragic.

CDR Smith was the first Black cadet to be admitted to the United States Coast Guard Academy. He was not an Affirmative Action cadet. He was not appointed in direct response to President Kennedy’s directive to find qualified Black high school graduates for the Academy.

The Academy was not aware at first that there was an African American cadet at the Academy. He had not been recruited as a “Black cadet”; nor, was he recognized as one by the Coast Guard Academy Admission’s Office. He was not recognized as an African American because he did not physically resemble one. None of his school records labeled him as Black, and he had not been recruited as a minority candidate. When Black spectators came to watch the entire corps of cadets march in parade, they frequently mistook Anthony Carbone and Donnie Winchester as the possible Black cadet. Carbone was an Italian, and Winchester was a Native American. They both were considerably darker than Merle Smith.

CDR Smith’s appointment had been tendered before President Kennedy issued the directive to find and appoint Black candidates for the Coast Guard Academy. His father, Colonel Merle Smith , Senior, was the Professor of Military Science at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland; and, he had formerly been an Army Staff officer at the Pentagon.

The only two Black cadets to have been recruited under President John F. Kennedy’s Directive were London Steverson and Kenneth Boyd. they both entered the Academy in 1964 and graduated in 1968.

CDR Smith is a 1974 graduate of the National Law Center at George Washington University, Washington, DC. He attended law school while serving in the Coast Guard. He became a Coast Guard Law Specialist.

After graduating, his Coast Guard career took him to Vietnam in 1969, where he commanded a patrol boat for a year. He became the first sea-service African-American to be awarded a Bronze Star. After receiving his law degree from George Washington University in 1974 he became a Coast Guard Law Specialist. Later, he returned to the New London, CT area to work as an attorney for Electric Boat, the Groton-based submarine builder.

It was after retiring from active duty in the Coast Guard, he became an adjunct law professor at the Coast Guard Academy.

In 2006 while teaching law at the Academy CDR Smith was retained as the Individual Military Counsel for Cadet Webster Smith who became the first Coast Guard Academy cadet to be court-martial in the history of the Coast Guard Academy. CDR Smith is no relation to Cadet Webster Smith. Cadet Webster Smith was detailed a Navy Judge Advocate Ggeneral (JAG) officer as his detailed military counsel. The Individual Military counsel is the lead counsel. He is a civilian and he is in charge of the defense team.

CDR Smith received a Pioneer Award. What does that mean? A “Pioneer” is a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.  What was the criteria for selection? Who was on the Selection Committee? Was there anyone else in contention? Will there be subsequent recipients? How many times can one do something for the first time?

The Award could have been called the Trailblazer Award. Trailblazer is a synonym for Pioneer. The term trailblazer signifies those who strike out on a new path or break new ground, either literally or symbolically, using skills of innovation or brave constitutions to conduct their lives off the beaten path. Often known for independent thought, rugged individualism and pioneering ways, trailblazers throughout history have included cutting-edge inventors, explorers and healers. Trailblazers throughout history all have shared an innovative spirit that kept them going when told their endeavors would be fruitless or against impossible odds. All have made their mark on history and mankind by refusing to quit and pushing ahead, most often into uncharted territory. When Merle James Smith entered the Coast Guard Academy in June 1962 he was sailing into uncharted waters. He had no chart, compass or navigator; yet, he reached his destination.

Minority recruitment remains an area that the Academy alleges is the impossible dream. Thirty-three percent of Coast Guard cadets are female; one out of three cadets is a female. The first female classes produced several flag rank officers. We have a plethora of female admirals.

In February, 1976 the Coast Guard Academy announced the appointments of female cadets to enter with the Class of 1980. Fourteen women  graduate as part of the Academy’s Class of 1980.

In 1991 a Women’s Advisory Council was established.

In 2000 the Coast Guard  promoted its first female officer to Rear Admiral. She was Captain Vivien S. Crea. She was not an Academy graduate.

In 2009 CAPT Sandra L. Stosz was promoted to Rear Admiral, becoming the first female graduate of the Coast Guard Academy to reach flag rank.

The Coast Guard was the first to select a woman superintendent of a military service academy.  Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, Coast Guard Director of Reserve and Leadership, was selected as Superintendent of the Academy. Rear Admiral Stosz graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in the Class of 1982.

In 2008 the Academy hosted a free, public Women’s Equality Day information fair on August 26 in Munro Hall at the Academy.

Each year since 1971, when President Jimmy Carter designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day, the United States has recognized the struggle for equal rights for women.

The Coast Guard Academy celebrates the event with the theme “Strengthening Our Communities” by hosting various Coast Guard and regional community groups on campus.

“This was billed as a great opportunity for members of our Coast Guard and surrounding New London community to network and learn from the organizations that help support and strengthen Academy leadership,” said LTJG Colleen Jones, Assistant Civil Rights Officer at the Academy and the event organizer.

The various organizations in attendance were the Greater New Haven National Organization of Women, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Connecticut, National Naval Officers Association, Academy Women, Toastmasters, CG Educational Services, CG Child Development Center, and the League of Women Voters.

Categories: Military Justice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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