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The Heart of a Gladiator – For Military Justice

This past week, the Army JAG Corps lost two of its own.  One out on a run before work.  The other by his own hand.  Though some may deign to judge that one loss is greater than the other, I cannot.  I have seen some of the most beautiful tributes given to the life of LTC Jay Thoman (the man that died while out on a morning run), and I would never in any way insinuate to denigrate his memory.  In fact, I join the voices that celebrate his life and accomplishments.  Jay Thoman was a good man, and the accolades lauded him over social media and in the hearts of those who knew him cannot be discounted, nor should they ever be.

I write in this space, however, to praise the other loss suffered this week.

Captain Charles “Chip” Ladd” evinced the heart of a gladiator.

I came to know Chip when I was hired onto a case with a client in common.  I have worked with dozens of detailed military counsel and was one myself for three years.  I tend to classify detailed military counsel into one of three categories, and I offer them in no particular order.  The first is the “company (wo)man.”  This category of counsel is biding their time as a defense counsel, does not want to upset the government, lest that person be his / her next boss, but performs marginally and typically to an adequate standard.

The second is a close cousin to the “company (wo)man” that is relieved when civilian counsel is hired on so that any efforts to derail the government (though he / she is part of a team) can be cast onto the civilian counsel and assure him / her no real “blame” in the team’s efforts but enjoys the part he / she plays in the shadows of advocating against the government.

The third is the one I found in Chip: the gladiator.  He cares not for the consequences to his own career; he cares only to champion the cause of his client, no matter the allegation, no matter the evidence, no matter whom might be dismayed by his efforts.  He champions the heart of the gladiator, and he defends his client no matter what potential impact it could have on his career.  In every case.  No matter the charge.  For every client.

I recall telling each of my clients when I was the uniformed defense counsel that I literally did not care what he / she had done, that this client could confess to me everything on the charge sheet (and / or more) and still it would not matter to the strength of my efforts in trying to achieve the best possible outcome for him.  Only two of my clients ever hired civilian counsel, and candidly one was at my (foolish) urging.

Chip Ladd relished in making every effort he could on behalf of his client, without regard to his next assignment or his Officer Evaluation Report (OER).  Chip routinely parked his car (more on that in just a bit) at the defense office overnight and left his office light on all night to keep the government counsel guessing at his work hours.  He would ride his bike to and from work to make sure the prosecutors were wondering what he was working on or as to the next grenade he might lob at their case. Chip kept long hours by anyone’s calculations and showed fervor in his work like very few military counsel I have come across.  He cared, even when others might not.  Chip Ladd cared for every client and every case.

Chip and I enjoyed discussing hypothetical avenues on cases he had outside of my representation with a common client.  He was always invigorated to talk about an idea he had about a new motion, a new way to leverage all he could for his client.  His energy and zeal for “sticking it to the man” were palpable, and I relished our interactions.

Chip was quick with wit and had the ability to make me (and countless others) laugh.  And not just the polite laugh of a colleague, but the kind of laugh that makes you physically throw back your head and laugh from your belly, the kind of laugh that shows your years in wrinkle lines at the sides of your (often weary) eyes.  I remember when we were driving over to CID to attempt to inspect a case file, and he was telling me about his car.  He was driving a maroon (purple) Porsche Cayenne.  The interior was candidly pretty filthy and he remarked about the pet hair and other debris and belongings.  Chip explained that he bought the Porsche from Craigslist and boasted that he had only paid $8,000.  He told me in his unreserved and ironic way that he knew that the “ladies” liked men that drove nice cars.  We chuckled about what kind of girls actually cared about the car a guy drives.

We sat around for hours in the CID lobby while we tried to get access to the case file, despite contacting trial counsel days in advance and their assurance that we would have “no issue.”  As we suffered through the CID recruiting video playing on repeat in the lobby, we talked cases and about life.  Chip shared with me about his prior enlisted service in the Air Force, the path that led him to the Army JAG Corps, and a few details about home and family.

I wish that I had known the burden that he carried in the time leading up to his tragic death, for I gladly would have done anything I possibly could to lighten it.  I relished scheming with him about ways to undermine the government’s case against our client and his others.  I value having known him, for however brief it was.

The next time I am in the arena (this coming week), I am dedicating my work in his memory. He represented the best of the corps, and neither the mechanism nor the source of his demise should denigrate the impact he had on his friends and colleagues, on his clients, nor on me.

Chip, your memory lives on, I’ll see to it.  You inspired me in your fervor, and I have no doubt that you have inspired more than one detailed military defense counsel.  May this blog post inspire more.

Rest well, my friend. I will continue the fight, on your behalf, in your memory, and in like kind to the energy you poured into this work. Rest in peace, gladiator.