Fiat Justitia Ruat Cælum
When a Navy SEAL was convicted of assault in 2015, it came during a time when the military was facing heightened scrutiny. The conviction of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith Barry (SOCS Barry) seemed like a step in the right direction. That assumes, of course, that the process behind SOCS Barry’s conviction was fair and free from, among other things, undue influence or other improper political pressures.
Subsequent to the conviction, a retired senior Navy officer came forward with revelations that call into question the process behind SOCS Barry’s conviction. In May 2017, Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge (Ret.) (RADM Lorge) filed a declaration with the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. RADM Lorge was the Convening Authority at the time of SOCS Barry’s conviction and statutorily charged with reviewing the findings and sentence in the Barry case and making a determination of whether to approve or disapprove the findings and/or sentence.
In his declaration, RADM Lorge recalled substantial political pressures and public scrutiny surrounding the handling of assault cases in the military, as well as related discussions he had with the current Judge Advocate General of the Navy regarding SOCS Barry’s case, all of which led him to approve the findings and sentence in the case despite concerns about the sufficiency of the evidence. In submitting his declaration, RADM Lorge sought to put all of the facts before the Court of Appeals as it decided SOCS Barry’s appeal.
In response to RADM Lorge’s declaration, the Court of Appeals ordered a fact-finding hearing on the issue of whether senior civilian and military leaders exerted “unlawful command influence” over RADM Lorge during the clemency phase of the appeal. Arent Fox represented RADM Lorge pro bono in connection with that hearing to help ensure a fair and just process.
The hearing occurred in September 2017 in Washington, DC. Following the hearing, the trial judge issued a lengthy finding of fact, in which he stated that RADM Lorge was a “credible witness,” and, based largely on RADM Lorge’s declarations and testimony, concluded that “actual or apparent unlawful command influence tainted the final action in this case.”
Following the hearing, the Court of Appeals ordered briefing on the issues raised during the fact-finding hearing. Oral argument on those issues is expected in March 2018. The Arent Fox team includes D. Jacques Smith, Jackson D. Toof, Michael Dearington, and Laura Zell.
This case is of importance to the public interest, as it is critical to maintain a high degree of confidence that our nation’s military operates in accordance with principles of due process and justice, and that it is insulated from improper political influence or interference. Arent Fox supports RADM Lorge as he seeks to right a wrong and restore confidence in our military justice system.
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