It was a gray day in the late fall of 2016, when I called the Chief of Military Justice for The U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood. I was helping an Officer client with a GOMOR rebuttal and it was the CoJ’s job to package the action and advise the Staff Judge Advocate on what she thought his filing recommendation to the Commanding General should be—filed locally and the GOMOR would have minimal impact on the Officer’s career, filed in the AMHHR and the Officer’s days in the service were numbered. Often there are merely stock GOMOR rebuttals. Instead, I submitted dozens of pieces of evidence: sworn affidavits of witnesses and other documents, including a sworn statement from my client and a memorandum advocating my client’s position. I the end, my client and I were grateful that the general saw it our way, securing a locally filed GOMOR and a chance at a future in the U.S. Army.
In the summer of 2006 I was still serving as a military prosecutor in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I was surprised though pleased to see that those serving in the Trial Defense Office of Wiesbaden, Germany had been required to travel from Hanau to Kaiserslautern, Germany to observe portions of the gang initiation murder trials that I was prosecuting. It was tight seating in the courtroom, and observers have described to me observing the Government’s “Gang Culture” expert, sitting in the gallery. The expert, a bigger man, struggled to look comfortable in a suit he obviously didn’t wear often, while trying to use the remnants of a torn paper towel to mop the sweat from his forehead. Others have described that despite having observed a fair share of trials what stood out to why this particular them was my command of the courtroom. Everything about my mannerisms, tone and movements about the courtroom, said that this was my space—my home. They recounted years later that the panel sat a little straighter and gripped their note taking pens a little tighter every time I stood to speak. According to these defense counsel, It was obvious to everyone in the courtroom that I, even back then, was a gifted litigator.
Shortly after those trials, I took a position as a defense counsel. As part of the Wiesbaden Trial Defense Field Office, I had to travel to Baumholder to represent a client that was a co-accused at a joint preliminary hearing—my (then) husband was deployed and my childcare had fallen through. I knew it was not in my client’s best interest to have asked for a delay, so I brought my newborn baby to the hearing. Over the next several hours, others describe that I peppered witnesses with questions, made heated objections and eloquent arguments—all while casually rocking my baby bearing car seat we had stashed under counsel table. My co-ounsels reported that I maintained my professional composure the entire hearing and not a single witness realized we had an infant tucked underneath counsel table.
About a year or two later I found myself needing to travel through bucolic Camp Liberty, Iraq as a defense counsel working out of Fort Hood, Texas. I had a client accused of stealing rugs from the nearby Camp Taji bazaar. Even though there are far easier ways to do an investigation than going TDY into a combat zone, none are quite as effective than doing the legwork yourself. I reached out for help to arrange lodging and transportation throughout my stay and arrived safely into theater, I spent the next several days in a whirlwind of travel, interviews and depositions. Unfortunately, I developed a terrible case of laryngitis shortly after my arrival. I had requested to have another local counsel step in to be my voice at a deposition, but I decided to give the medical tent one more chance at recovery. I explained to the doc that I had to get my voice back quickly or I risked getting stuck from the sandstorms. I tried to impress upon him the urgency of the situation. Even though the usual course of care is to just wait out a bout of laryngitis, the physician agreed to give me a dose of steroids. He warned that the laryngitis could come back and last even longer; I decided the client was worth the risk. Just as the tech delivered the injection, I felt a shot of adrenaline and began pacing the room. My client was an air-medic who watched as I turned grey. He became concerned, rushed to find the tech, and quizzed him on what he had used to dilute the steroid. The tech replied that it was “pre-mixed.” My client turned grey this time. He demanded to see the physician and they rushed to the discard repository to confirm there was no pre-mixture. The tech had given me an overdose of steroids. And the only option was to wait it out. So, although the more than quadruple dose of prednisone had me awake for the better part of the next 48 hours, the steroids did their job. Even though I now sounding like Kathleen Turner, I had my voice back (in a fashion), drove on and completed the depositions as scheduled. The government would later dismiss the case against my client three days before trial because of the overwhelming evidence I had collected on that trip and through other witness interviews that demonstrated my client’s actual innocence. The Turkish rug salesman in theater at set him up. You cannot make up this stuff. I believe there are no short cuts to effective investigation and trial preparation.
After my trial defense tour, I was selected to serve as one of fifteen Army-wide Special Victim Prosecutors, each of us to cover different geographical areas. Despite the rigors and stress of trial work and warnings that staying in the courtroom would blunt my JAG careers, I fought to stay in criminal justice positions. You often hear of trial lawyers getting “burnt-out” from the constant stress of having someone else’s future in your hands—but my purpose and my passion is in criminal law and that is where I thrive.
After my tour as Special Victim Prosecutor, I resigned my active-duty commission to pursue this private military defense practice. As I have traveled the world defending clients across services, I speak to many in uniform about the pressure commanders felt and continue to feel to prosecute sexual assault cases particularly and, the alarming trend of suspects being “guilty until proven innocent.” My mission remains to right that imbalance. The work was too important to continue in some administrative job while treading water for an active duty retirement, and I remain exceedingly proud that the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart remains one of the world’s most preeminent military justice defense firms.
I am also exceedingly proud of the practitioners that approach me for advice about their own potential practices, those that want to join the cause along side me in my firm, many of whom say I am the only firm they would want to be associated with. Candidly, I do not make many offers and those that have joined me, for however long, are those whose reputations and work ethic I believe are parallel to mine. Many in uniform have had regrettable experiences with civilian counsel that do not know this craft; they develop a general distaste for civilian defense counsel who do not know the reputation I have earned in Army cases. It has been largely an uphill battle to win over those from other services especially. Frankly, I have been in this for so long that many of the young Army practitioners do not know who I am, and that is just fine. A handful of military defense counsel welcome the opportunity to see a different approach and largely by the end of a case thank me for what they have learned along the path. It is hard for me to give up the reigns in a trial because it is not where I believe on-the-job training should occur; I differ from the military’s philosophy in that regard. Each client and each case is too important. But I do bring the military counsel into the process, we craft the cross-exam of the accuser in collaboration and discuss theme and theory as a team.
It is critical that counsel take the time to look at the client as a person; a husband or wife; father or mother; son or daughter of a greater family. And though I understand the need to compartmentalize cases to some degree, I feel strongly that you work harder when you know who you are working for and meaningfully undertake to know what they are striving to preserve.
I try to get the fullest picture of my clients—who they are to the people who love them. And when you raise your right hand and pledge to lay down your life for your country, there is always something to fight for. What drives me to stay up later and work harder than any other counsel is taking the time to know my clients. I am well aware my clients’ futures depend on my effort and ability. However, my experience was that the many civilian practitioners (those that do not specialize in this work) largely charge high prices but rely on the military counsel to do all of the work and in so doing, they grossly underrepresent their clients. I am aware of one counsel who took on representation of a client at an administrative separation board; when the board concluded and the client had left, he turned to the military attorney and literally said, “thanks for earning my paycheck.” Yes, that’s right. How disgusting and despicable. When any lawyer looks at his clients as nothing more than a paycheck, it compromises the entire system. Stories like this make it a challenge to win over military panels that are comprised of commanders who may have experienced or heard of similar behavior. It is part of what motivated me to launch the International Association of Military Defense Lawyers (IAMDL). I want to host a continuing legal education course designed to teach practitioners my craft, those in uniform and those not. My hope is that eventually it becomes a requirement so that any lawyer with a license in good standing cannot enter a court-martial and ruin a service member’s life, having posed as a specialist.
I work and earn every penny that my clients pay me and then some. I am most proud when I receive a by-name referral from a colleague from the Jag Corps receives a call from a friend or peer that finds themselves in need of legal help. “Who would you hire if you ever needed someone?” Many say me. Others I know jest, “if I ever get in trouble, I’m calling Jocelyn Stewart!”
Understand that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I was exploiting service members during the darkest times in their lives. That is not how I operate and it is not how the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart operates.
My firm’s philosophy: we take the cases where we can do the most good. Often, that means we turn clients back to the military defense counsel when that office is capable of negotiating an effective guilty plea. We do not take cases for the purpose of collecting a fee; we take cases where we can strive to make a real difference. That means we are required to have tough conversations with people. Attorneys are required to keep their caseloads at a level that allows them enough time and resources to give each client the individual focus their case deserves. That means we keep our number of “active” clients at a fraction of the industry’s maximum caseload recommendations. We do not take every client seeking representation so that we could do “volume” to turn them over as quickly as possible for profit. We typically do not accept cases that we believe from that initial consult are likely to result in a guilty plea. We take cases where our knowledge and skills would truly benefit the client and make a positive impact on the outcome of that clients’ legal issues.
My main focus is to keep a client’s situation from ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. Our firm’s mission is to use our knowledge, talent and skills to correct the imbalance in the courts-martial system. I brought all of my passion and purpose into creating a firm entirely focused on delivering quality representation regardless of the issue at hand.
I believe that many start out with the same ideals but grow lazy and greedy. Let that never be said of my firm. The feedback we hear is the reality I strive to live: our clients of the Law Office of Jocelyn C Stewart provide feedback that let us know that our mission and our goals are being met each and every day.
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