Sill attorneys sworn-in for military court
November 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Six Fort Sill attorneys were sworn-in to try cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces -- the highest military court.
CAAF sitting Chief Judge James Baker, Judge Scott Stuckey and senior Judge Walter Cox presided over the ceremony Nov. 6 at Snow Hall. Afterward, the judges answered questions from the audience.
The lawyers who took the oath were: Capt. Robyn Chatwood, 214th Fires Brigade; Capt. Brian Chinchar, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate; Capt. Joe Levin, OSJA Client Services Branch; Capt. Erick Liddick, OSJA Client Services; Capt. Michael Townsend Jr., Trial Defense Service; and Capt. Andrew Scott, 75th Fires Brigade.
"Being admitted to practice before the court is an honor," said Scott, an Army engineer-turned-lawyer. "This is like the Supreme Court for the military."
To be admitted to the CAAF bar, lawyers must first be admitted to practice law in a federal court, or the highest court of a state, territory, commonwealth or possession and then apply to the CAAF, according to the website www.armfor.uscourts.gov. At Fort Sill the lawyers also had to be in good standing and get the endorsement of their command. Since, 1951 the CAAF has admitted more than 34,000 lawyers.
The CAAF judges were in Oklahoma to hear an Air Force appeals case at the University of Oklahoma Law School in Norman, said William DeCicco, CAAF clerk of the court. They made the time to swear in military lawyers here, as well as at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
Being admitted to the CAAF bar seemed like the next step in career progression, said Chatwood.
"You start at the lowest level with trial, then you move up to the appellate levels, and you always want to try to grasp higher and be a part of this court as well," said Chatwood, a University of Denver Law School graduate.
Under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, a trial court begins at the installation level. If the defense loses the case, it may appeal to the branch-specific appeals division, said Townsend. Then the next appeals level would be the CAAF. After CAAF, the appellate level is the U.S. Supreme Court.
Scott noted that "very rarely does the Supreme Court intervene in military matters."
Levin said he was excited when he heard he had the opportunity to be sworn in and that it was an honor.
"My immediate job assignment (legal assistance) probably will not have me arguing before them, but it is something that will open doors in the future," said Levin, a former enlisted heavy construction equipment operator.
Being able to argue before the CAAF is a prestigious skill identifier for military attorneys, said Col. Mark Seitsinger, Fort Sill Staff Judge Advocate. "These individuals who raised their hands are all solid attorneys with the right credentials."
Stuckey said he encourages military attorneys to get admitted to the CAAF bar.
"It opens the door to very interesting duty arguing cases before us either on the government side or on the defense side," said Stuckey, a former Air Force attorney.
The Air Force regularly sends many of its young attorneys to be sworn-in en masse before the CAAF at its courthouse in Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C., the judge said.
What's the best part of being a CAAF judge?
"Doing work of value, my interaction with my colleagues and clerks, being in a beautiful courthouse and thinking about intellectually challenging matters," said Stuckey, who began his 15-year CAAF term Dec. 19, 2006.
CAAF judges are appointed by the president and are the equivalent of four-star generals, said DeCicco, a retired Navy captain.
The CAAF receives about 800 petitions a year, DeCicco said.
"They usually grant a review in 75 to 100 cases a year, but will only hear oral arguments in some of those," the court clerk said. "Last term, we only heard 33. This term (Sept. 1 through Aug. 31) we'll probably hear 40 or more."