Law School Hosts U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces Special Session, Welcomes Military Guests

About 175 law students, professors, and members of the public—including approximately 30 guests from Scott Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood—had the privilege of attending a Special Session of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom on November 2. 

Dean Kent Syverud, left, with Brigadier General
David Wesley, SJA

The session began with a brief greeting from the clerk of the court, followed by three service members from Fort Leonard Wood being sworn as officers of the court. A panel of five judges then heard arguments on both sides of the case of United States v. Thomas Hayes. The case concerns a U.S. Navy Midshipman who pled guilty to stealing military property and selling it on eBay. In unsworn statements, he said that he had committed the crime to support his mother, who threatened suicide if she did not receive the money. 

Chief Judge James E. Baker, left,
with alumnus Eric Powers

A military judge of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, sitting as a general court-marshal, then convicted Hayes of 11 specifications of selling military property without authority and 10 specifications of theft of military property, in violation of Articles 108 and 121, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. §§ 908 and 921. The judge set aside the duress defense. 

The issues on appeal to CAAF are whether or not the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals failed to present a defense of duress, erred when it accepted Hayes’ guilty plea, and erred when it set aside the possibility of duress because suicide cannot, as a matter of law, be the threat necessary to establish the defense of duress. 

Justin Lepp, center, with Professor Mark Zoole, third from left,
and CAAF judges

At Wednesday’s Special Session, the panel of five judges consisted of: Chief Judge James E. Baker; Judges Charles E. Erdman, Scott W. Stucky, and Margaret A. Ryan; and Senior Judge Walter T. Cox. Third-year law student Justin Lepp argued an amicus brief [view related article]. Alumnus and adjunct professor Mark Zoole, JD '88, served as the Amicus Counsel of Record. CAAF holds Special Sessions at law schools as a part of an educational outreach program. [view related preview article.]  At the conclusion of the session, the panel answered general procedural questions about the court and presented Dean Kent Syverud with a framed lithograph of CAAF's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In his amicus brief, Lepp argued that “duress” has been broadly defined by other courts to allow threat of suicide to constitute a form of duress. The court questioned him for 10 minutes about his brief. “It was a tremendous honor to stand before the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces,” Lepp said. “I am grateful to the court, the law school, and my professor, Mark Zoole, for giving me this opportunity.”

Judge Scott W. Stucky, left, and Senior Judge
Walter T. Cox, with a law student

Prior to the Special Session, Senior Judge Cox and Judge Stucky conducted a Judges and Law Clerks Roundtable, attended by about half a dozen law students and five current CAAF clerks. The two discussed what qualities they look for when hiring clerks and answered a variety of questions about employment with the court. Interestingly, Judge Cox said that he does not necessarily look for students with military experience, but rather the more traditional factors of a student’s academic background, writing skills, faculty recommendations, and ability to “work harmoniously in chambers."

CAAF clerks discussed their diverse backgrounds, how they came to CAAF, and the unique experience of serving the court. The session was moderated by Rachel Koehler, Career Services Office judicial clerkship adviser, and also attended by alumnus and former CAAF clerk Eric Powers, JD ’09.

From left: Professor David Rosen, Senior Judge Cox,
and Judge Stucky

Senior Judge Cox and Judge Stucky then attended a section of adjunct professor and alumnus David Rosen’s Evidence class. The judges fielded questions from students as they discussed the history of the court, its relationship to the military, and the court’s structure. Meanwhile, CAAF Chief Judge James E. Baker conducted an International Forum for about a dozen law school students interested in CAAF and the rule of law. Chief Judge Baker provided candid advice for those hoping to work in international law, as well as stressing the importance of strong writing skills. He then listed the five or six federal agencies that hire international lawyers—from the Department of Defense to the EPA—and encouraged students to apply to all of them. The session was moderated by Michael Peil, associate dean for international programs. 

Dean Kent Syverud, left, with Bill DeCicco,
CAAF clerk of the court

In a companion event, Powers held a brown bag lunch, sponsored by the Career Services Office, about the Chicago legal market. Powers is an associate in Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group. 





By Timothy Fox