Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Judicial Activism For Submariners

[Intel Source: The Sub Report] Back in February 1998, USS La Jolla (SSN 701) collided with and sank a fishing boat off the coast of South Korea. Since I've seen the reports, I can't comment about what a cluster the whole operation was, but I can discuss the continuing legal efforts by one of the ship's officers at the time to clear his name. From the article:

"A Navy officer faulted in the collision of a U.S. submarine and a South Korean fishing vessel in 1998 has won the right to take his fight to clear his name back to federal court.
"The U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday said a federal judge could not prevent Cmdr. Charles H. Piersall III from trying to void a nonjudicial punishment against him, according to court records...

"...He then went to the Board of Correction for Naval Records, claiming that he had the right to reject the mast’s findings because the proceedings were held on dry land, not aboard the USS La Jolla, said Eugene Fidell, a military law expert who represented Piersall.
"When the correction board rejected Piersall’s claim, he pursued the matter in federal court.
But the judge tossed the suit. The Navy secretary had argued that Piersall lost the right to pursue the matter in federal court when he failed to request a court-martial before the mast, records say.
"The Navy secretary also claimed that civilian courts are prohibited from interfering with the military justice system, but the U.S. Court of Appeals found otherwise and overturned the district court’s ruling."

I'm not really sure that CDR Piersall has much of a leg to stand on, notwithstanding this procedural victory. (As I read it, the Court of Appeals ruling only had to do with plantiff's ability to pursue the case, and not on the merits of the case itself.)

Article 15 of the UCMJ covers administrative, "non-judicial punishment". This is how the military disposes of cases short of court martial. Normally, service members can request court martial (where rules of evidence apply, but the potential punishment is much greater) except in one important case:

"...However, except in the case of a member attached to or embarked in a vessel, punishment may not be imposed upon any member of the armed forces under this article if the member has, before the imposition of such punishment, demanded trial by court-martial in lieu of such punishment."

He didn't demand a trial by court martial, and the Navy wouldn't have had to give him one, due to the portion of Article 15 quoted above. His main argument seems to be that the NJP was held ashore, rather than on his ship. I've always been taught that the caveat was intended to allow a ship's CO to dispose of a case quickly, without a need for lawyers, when the ship was deployed and no lawyers were available. Nowadays, it's really only submarines that would not be able to get the people needed for a court martial onboard within a reasonable amount of time if needed; nevertheless, the caveat still exists. Since the UCMJ doesn't require the mast be held on the ship where the offense was committed, my guess is that the case will be laughed out of course.

On the other hand, if CDR Piersall ends up winning his case, just about every officer who's been taken to Admiral's Mast in the last several years would be able to contest their cases...

Going deep...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was it, something like a 27 ton trawler I think?
If he was CDO at the time he obviously had no clue about his watch team and OOD and is distancing himself from the fact. I can't believe this made news, he's just another whiner that is trying to get a federal case through the court.
And they said it could impact his career? LOL, it is over shipmate, say sayonara, mabuhai, and adios.
Whether slacking or using white knuckled fingers, I've seen the same making wrong judgement calls and put a ship in jeapordy. He just got caught.
'nuff said
We don't see the same from more recent accidents. They have enuf self respect to take responsibility and move on.

1/30/2006 2:56 AM

Blogger Chap said...

I was at Group 7 when the Boss flew to Chinhae to work this. Knew some of the players. Concur with your "cluster" designation.

I believe the term is "sea lawyer".

From a purely legal perspective it's an interesting counterpoint to the doctrinal challenges being done for medical malpractice.

I am afraid, however, that I do not get the point of why the colliding CDO is doing this.

1/31/2006 12:01 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

One of my fellow JOs on Topeka had been Nav on La Jolla until a couple months before the collision; unfortunately, something like this tends to make selection boards less likely to believe what said CO might have written about earlier officers, and messes with a shot at XO.

1/31/2006 1:14 AM

Blogger Chucky said...

Anonymous said...some have enuf self respect to take responsibility and move on. Chap said...he's afraid he does not get the point of why the colliding CDO is trying to clear his name. Don't know 'bout you, but this is crystal clear to me. Clearing his name is not about self-respect or integrity, you know..."a man fighting at the highest levels for his principles". If he was really fighting for principles, the colliding CDO would be contesting the merits of his dereliction of duty, not just the technicality of how he was "awarded" his Article 15.
If he succeeds, he will sue the USN for "ilegally" tarnishing a record that caused his non-promotion to CAPT. He would then be entilted to back pay since the date he would have made CAPT. Do the math: we're talking at least a couple of millions, to include the "suffering" he went through.
Hopefully, with this money, he'd go back to Korea and buy fishing rods for the fishermen who lost their 27 ton trawler.

2/25/2006 8:37 AM

Blogger ihatehaters said...

I was onboard the USS La Jolla during the collision and was one of the four rescue divers that night that swam out and and retrieved the Korean crew from there sinking ship. The crew was intoxicated and violated rules of navigation. That being said the US Navy has the most sophisticated navigation electronics in the world. A lot of people had there careers and lives changed and don't pass judgement on anyone trying to take full advantage of the court system

1/15/2012 9:14 PM


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