Celebrating its 246th birthday this month, the lawyers who comprise the Judge Advocate General’s Corps support commanders, staff, Soldiers, retirees, and their dependents throughout the U.S. Army in a variety of ways, serving as its legal arm.
Originally established on July 29, 1775 by General George Washington, it is our country’s oldest and one of the largest law firms in the United States, employing more than 4,500 full and part time attorneys.
Work from our country’s first judge advocates remains as relevant today as when it began, as many of our current practices are derived from those historical roots. In 1863, judge advocates helped write and implement President Abraham Lincoln’s Order 100 which was our earliest codification of the law of war.
It was also referred to as the Lieber Code. Written primarily by the German-American legal scholar and political philosopher Francis Lieber, it set out rules of conduct for Union Soldiers during the Civil War, and is the basis of most current regulations of the laws of war for the United States. It is referenced in the foreword to the Department of Defense’s Law of War.
The Lieber code describes how a Soldier should conduct himself during war. It insists upon the humane, ethical treatment of populations in occupied areas, and forbade the use of poisons. It also provides rules for the proper, humane treatment of the captured enemy.
The practice of law has also evolved in the Army since our nation’s start. It has changed with our advances in technology.
“Now we are involved in cyber law, space law and intelligence law,” explained Lt. Col. Richard Gorini, staff judge advocate, 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
Unlike many of their civilian counterparts, judge advocates don’t necessarily limit their expertise to only one specialty. They gain experience in a variety of areas of law so that they can provide counsel to commanders and staff on all Army legal matters. Their daily work depends upon where they are assigned.
They could perform work regarding Soldier discipline, ethics, investigations, or lawful expenditure of money. They could also work in criminal law, administrative law, national security law, or contract and fiscal law.
At the 1st TSC, Gorini advises Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell, Sr., commanding general, on all matters concerning the command. Attorneys in the 1st TSC Office of the Staff Judge Advocate also provide legal advice and regulatory guidance to commanders and staff in subordinate units on a full range of military issues.
Gorini said that he provides mostly military justice and administrative law advice here.
He also provides advice on post-government employment ethics. “There are rules for people leaving the Army about what job they can take afterward, especially for those working in contracting,” he said.
Prior to serving with the 1st TSC, Gorini’s first assignment as a judge advocate was as the chief of operational law in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division where there was a lot of work with the Geneva Conventions and rules of engagement. He also served as the brigade judge advocate with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Korea, where he prosecuted cases for the government at court-martial.
There are 22 legal professionals assigned to the 1st TSC staff judge advocate office and seven are currently deployed to support operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
In theater, the 1st TSC commands units from all three Army components: Regular Army, Army Reserve and National Guard. Additionally, the unit’s operational command post has been staffed by members of all three components on a rotational basis. Gorini said that that there are nuances and differences in regulations working with the National Guard and Reserve components forward.
“They come in and are part of the team,” Gorini said. “The dynamic is neat, because of their day jobs,” he added.
Lt. Col. Ed Wiggins, command judge advocate, 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), brought applicable experience. “His [civilian] job is an immigration law attorney, and his background has been beneficial down range,” Gorini said.
Maj. Darrell Jordan, a judge advocate with Task Force Spartan, offers another perspective. Gorini explained, “He has more insight into what might persuade a judge, since his [civilian] job is being a judge in Texas.” Jordan serves with the Texas Army National Guard.
All Army judge advocates are licensed in at least one state in the U.S. They must also remain in good standing with their state’s legal bar. Gorini is licensed in both Virginia and New Jersey, which means he passed the bar in both states.
Judge advocates are dual professionals. They have an obligation as an Army officer to follow Army rules of professional conduct, but they also have an obligation to follow the rules of professional conduct as an attorney in the state in which they’re licensed.
Most JAs are directly commissioned after becoming attorneys, but there is a program where the Army will pay for a Soldier to attend law school. Prior to becoming an attorney, Gorini served as an engineer officer. He was commissioned in 1999 after graduating from the United States Military Academy. He then attended George Mason University in Virginia as part of the Funded Legal Education Program.
Both officers and enlisted can apply to the program, which will begin accepting applications again starting August 1. Requirements to enter the FLEP can be found at www.goarmy.com/jag/funded-legal-education-program.html.
“The JAG Corps is always evolving,” Gorini explained. “We develop positions to meet the demand. This helps create better litigators and attorneys to advise commanders.”
“We are also continuously adapting,” he added.
Another big change that has happened since Gorini first became a JAG officer is the importance of JAs being embedded in units. “When I first started, JAs were consolidated in one office,” he said. “Today JAs are more part of a unit, especially at the captain level.”
“They focus more on military justice and advising company commanders on preventative law, teaching classes, ensuring the health and welfare of Soldiers, and preventing legal issues before they happen,” Gorini explained. This also allows trial attorneys to focus more on litigation.
There are also JAs who represent the individual Soldier and not the Soldier’s command here at Fort Knox and at most Army installations. These include special victim counsel and legal assistance attorneys.
The special victim counsel at Fort Knox provides legal representation to qualifying victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. A licensed attorney can help a victim meet with investigators, prosecutors, and navigate the uniform code of military justice process.
Legal assistance attorneys are available to provide advice on divorce, adoption, or a creditor dispute. They can review a contract or lease, prepare a will, power of attorney, or an advance medical directive. Legal assistance attorneys can also assist with evaluation appeals and rebuttals to letters of reprimand and assessments of financial liability.
Finally, there are trial defense services, which are completely independent of the command, where a licensed attorney is available to represent a Soldier pending court-martial or provide non-judicial Article 15 counseling. A TDS attorney can represent a Soldier during a criminal investigation and before involuntary enlisted separation, officer elimination, or a grade reduction board.
Special victim counsel, trial defense services and legal assistance on Fort Knox are all located on the third floor of Pike Hall, building 1310.
Commanders and Soldiers should seek advice with an Army JA from a relevant office regarding any legal issues. The services are available and encouraged. Legal experts are here to help provide counsel to ensure laws and regulations are followed and that Soldiers are fairly treated.