Skip to comments.Defending the accused: Many attorneys in Hamdania case practiced law .. in military - 'Pendleton 8'
Posted on 07/02/2006 11:10:25 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
NORTH COUNTY ---- Civilian attorneys hired by eight Camp Pendleton men accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania have years of legal experience, including many gained during long stints in the military.
One of them, Carlsbad-based attorney David Brahms, is a retired brigadier general who, when he left the service in 1988, was the Marine Corps' top-ranking attorney and had been counsel to the commandant.
Jane Siegel of San Marcos, another of the attorneys tapped for the case, once served as the chief for all Marine Corps defense counsel.
They and seven other private attorneys, many of whom spent time as prosecutors and defense attorneys in the military, have been hired to represent eight Camp Pendleton-based men charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and related offenses in the April 26 death of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad.
All of the accused are members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's Kilo Company.
The case, which has gained national and international attention, involves some of the most serious criminal accusations against U.S. military personnel in Iraq. It is the first case in which the U.S. government is alleging that a group of troops in Iraq conspired to commit murder and then cover it up.
Family members of the accused said that once their sons told them of the investigation in early May, they immediately began a search for private attorneys.
On top of their overall experience, many of the attorneys in this case have worked as law professors or lecturers.
Siegel and co-counsel Joseph Casas teach at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
Another of the private attorneys, Victor Kelley, works as an adjunct professor at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
"This case, this one really, really strikes my patriotic heart," Casas said. "I know our Marines are dying over there day in and day out.
"This case will (either) embolden our Marines on the ground or make them think twice about pulling the trigger."
In addition to the civilian attorneys, each defendant has been assigned a military attorney and has the option of asking for a second military attorney to assist in the defense.
Picking an attorney
Encinitas resident John Jodka Jr., whose son, Pfc. John Jodka III, is among the accused, said he sought advice from a few military attorneys he knew before asking Siegel to represent his son.
"I received three lists from three sets of people who did not know one another," the elder Jodka said in an e-mail response to a question from the North County Times, "and Jane's name was on all of the lists. I expected that meant she was known for her results."
Jodka said that Siegel told him she had previously paired up with San Diego-based Casas, who she at one time had faced in a military trial in which she worked as a defense lawyer. On Siegel's recommendation, Jodka said, he decided to hire the two lawyers to work as a team.
In addition to Jodka, the accused men are Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr. and Cpl. Trent D. Thomas.
According to the charges filed by Marine officials two weeks ago, the eight are alleged to have dragged Awad from his home, bound his hands and feet, placed him in a hole and shot him.
Afterward, they are alleged to have placed a shovel near his body to make it appear that he was an insurgent digging a hole for a roadside bomb.
None of the men has had the opportunity to plead to the charges. The men's families and attorneys have said they are not guilty.
Each man's defense could cost as much as $100,000 if each is ordered to trial following hearings to determine whether the charges will go forward.
Joseph Casas, Jane Siegel
One thing that nearly all of the attorneys share is experience as both a defense attorney and as a prosecutor.
During his more than three-year stint as a Navy prosecutor, Casas said, he tried more than 60 cases, including serving as co-counsel on an attempted murder case.
"Even though I have not been practicing for decades, I have a lot of experience under my belt," Casas, 31, said.
Experience as a prosecutor is a benefit to Jodka's defense, Casas said Thursday.
"You know what a prosecutor has to do to prosecute his case, what he has to do to (prove) the elements of the crime. "I like to think that I have an inside scoop on what prosecutors are thinking, or what is coming."
Casas ---- whose bread and butter is primarily military and corporate law ---- said he also brings experience as a civil litigator for business clients, and at one time, a position with a nationwide firm.
Teaming with Casas is Siegel, who said her heart is in handling defense.
As a Marine, she rose to one of the top positions on that side of the table, spending two years as the chief defense counsel in the Marine Corps in the early 1990s.
"All I ever really wanted to do was try cases," Siegel said last week. "Criminal law was the only thing that ever interested me. The rest was kind of boring."
She said she served two tours as a military prosecutor.
"I think that being a prosecutor is too easy," she said. "You have all the resources of the Marine Corps or the government at your disposal.
"The defense has nothing but themselves. I've always had kind of a soft spot for the underdog."
Retired Brig. Gen. David Brahms is representing Pennington.
Brahms is a Harvard graduate who spent 26 years in the Marines, including a stretch as second in command at Camp Pendleton in 1985.
As a military attorney, he was a prosecutor, a judge and a defense attorney, a job he also had in Vietnam during the war.
The irreverent Brahms, who has taken on some high-profile court-martial cases, said he spent five years in civil litigation after his retirement from the military in 1988, then "wandered back into military law."
"We enjoy ourselves," the 68-year-old Brahms said of his life as an attorney. "We laugh a lot. Don't make a whole hell of a lot of money. What else would I do? This is fun."
Coming to the case with experience not only as a trial attorney but as a judge is the man representing Thomas.
Attorney Victor Kelley from Alabama was a career Marine ---- in his 20 years of service, he spent nine years as an infantry officer. After retiring as a major in 1989, he spent two years as a federal prosecutor in his home state. Kelley has been in private practice for more than 15 years.
These days, the low-key Birmingham man, who said he is a three-time veteran of the Ironman triathlon competition in Hawaii, heads a firm called the National Military Justice Group. He also sits as a municipal court judge in Birmingham, a position he has held for 15 years.
During his time in the military, Kelley spent a three-year stretch as a military judge, during which he oversaw about 240 courts-martial.
Kelley said he took on Thomas' case because "the cause is just, and I am proud to be a part of it."
Thomas' family has set up a Web site to raise money for his defense fund. And even if not much money comes in, Kelley will stay with the case. A few weeks ago, after returning from a visit with his client in the Camp Pendleton brig, it hit him how tough that may be.
"I got home and my wife kissed me and she said, 'I'm proud of you, I love you and I hope you don't bankrupt our family,' " the 59-year-old said.
Still in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Lt. Cmdr. Jeremiah Sullivan has 13 years of military experience, including working as senior defense counsel for the Navy in Europe and Southwest Asia.
Sullivan is taking up the defense of Bacos, the only one of the accused who is in the Navy.
Sullivan, who will be 41 this week, also worked as a staff judge advocate for special warfare for all the West Coast Navy SEALs.
His civilian cases include a remarkable feat: A few years ago, Sullivan won an acquittal for his client in a Maryland death penalty case.
"There's nothing more important than defending my clients and their constitutional rights," Sullivan said. "That is at the most simplistic level, but it is so profound. ... I think you just develop a passion for it. It's more than a job. It consumes your life."
On top of his duties on one of the most high-profile cases in country, Sullivan is a father with two young children ---- including a newborn less than 3 weeks old. His wife is an active-duty judge advocate.
Joseph Low, who is representing Magincalda, served as an active-duty Marine from 1985 to 1989, then headed into the reserve.
A trial attorney, the Long Beach-based Low also holds a master's degree in biophysical chemistry from UC Santa Barbara.
As a civilian attorney practicing military defense, he and fellow attorney Brannon headed to Kuwait in 2004 to defend ---- and win an acquittal for ---- a Marine accused of felony theft while in Iraq.
Low also is an instructor at the prestigious Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College.
Low's primary focus is as a trial attorney in state, federal and military courts, and he said last week that he is often retained by other practicing attorneys to conduct trials for them and their clients.
J. Richardson Brannon, who hails from the Georgia city of Gainesville, once served as a Marine, but not as an attorney.
Brannon is representing Hutchins, the highest ranking of the accused men.
This case is not his first foray into defending people for alleged actions in the war zone.
In 2004, he and attorney Low successfully defended an Army specialist in Kuwait on charges of stealing government equipment.
His first foray into court-martial defense, he said, was a 2002 case in which a Marine was accused of theft.
An attorney for at least 25 years ---- his Web site contains a litany of civil cases where he won large awards for his clients, or defended accused individuals to acquittal ---- Brannon points to his murder trial experience and understanding of forensic evidence.
"I have handled cases where people shot people, and I succeeded because they had a good reason for it," he said last week, noting that the juries in those cases agreed.
Representing the 22-year-old Jackson is Vista attorney Tom Watt.
Watt reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Marines, where he served six years' active duty and 15 more years in the reserve.
His service resume includes work at Camp Pendleton as an investigating officer for the upcoming Article 32 hearings, which are akin in form to preliminary hearings in civilian courts.
As a military defense attorney, Watt took on a variety of cases, including a few where his clients faced charges of negligent homicide. In private practice, Watt recently represented a murder defendant in a court-martial.
He said he's seen many of his court-martial clients acquitted over the years, including a few accused of rape.
"I always enjoyed working as a defense counsel," Watt, 51, said Friday. "I think it gives you a little bit more freedom to represent your client. I just enjoyed trying to help the individual Marines."
Steven M. Immel
Steven Immel, who is representing Shumate, is a former lieutenant colonel in the Marines.
Immel served as deputy staff judge advocate for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton and the staff judge advocate for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Immel also served as a military judge at Camp Pendleton, presiding over recent trials where the charges included murder, attempted murder and rape.
Prosecuting our troops for allegations made by Iraqi citizens has other negative ramifications too. It stokes the fires for the terrorists, it gives the anti-war protesters lots of fuel, and it surely must make young Americans out there think twice about joining a military that prosecutes its own troops more vigorously than it prosecutes the actual war. PC rules of engagement allow terrorists to fight another day, and they are placing our troops in danger from the enemy and from their own leadership. I've never seen or heard of anything like this (constant courts-martailing of our troop), it's got to be bad for morale.
As I woke this morning I was absolutely shaken by the media's role in propagating this situation.
EXCELENT,I will forward to family and ma.papers.......perfect
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