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  Military Law - Legal News


Military prosecutors have reached into a section of military law seldom used since World War II in the politically fraught case against U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan.

Observers wondered for months if Bergdahl would be charged with desertion after the deal brokered by the U.S. to bring him home. He was -- as well as misbehavior before the enemy, a much rarer offense that carries a stiffer potential penalty in this case.

Bergdahl could face a life sentence if convicted of the charge, which accuses him of endangering fellow soldiers when he "left without authority; and wrongfully caused search and recovery operations."

Observers say the misbehavior charge allows authorities to allege that Bergdahl not only left his unit with one less soldier, but that his deliberate action put soldiers who searched for him in harm's way. The Pentagon has said there is no evidence anyone died searching for Bergdahl.

"You're able to say that what he did had a particular impact or put particular people at risk. It is less generic than just quitting," said Lawrence Morris, a retired Army colonel who served as the branch's top prosecutor and top public defender.

The Obama administration has been criticized both for agreeing to release five Taliban operatives from the Guantanamo Bay prison and for heralding Bergdahl's return to the U.S. with an announcement in the White House Rose Garden. The administration stood by the way it secured his release even after the charges were announced.

The military has scheduled an initial court appearance hearing for Bergdahl on Sept. 17 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Afterward the case could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.



Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years, is asking a military appellate court to disqualify the general with discretion in his case.

Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, says Bergdahl filed the request Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington.   

Bergdahl wants the court to disqualify Gen. Mark Milley because he has a personal interest in being confirmed as the next Army chief of staff.

Bergdahl, who is charged with desertion, was exchanged last year for five senior Taliban officials held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl's preliminary hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, is set for September. From there, his case could be referred for trial.



A retired Army colonel pleaded guilty to negotiating his post-military employment with a helicopter company that did business with the Defense Department office he ran while still in uniform, according to court records filed Tuesday by U.S. government attorneys.

The former officer, Norbert Vergez, caused the terms of a contract to be adjusted so that the company would be paid faster, said a plea agreement detailing the charges. Vergez also failed to disclose on his ethics form that he had received a $30,000 check from a second company for relocation expenses. Officers of Vergez's seniority are typically allowed to be reimbursed by Defense Department for their final moving expenses.

The companies are not named in the records, which were filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama. But the documents describe MD Helicopters in Mesa, Arizona, and Patriarch Partners, a private equity firm in New York. Both companies are owned by Wall Street executive Lynn Tilton.

Vergez, 49, went to work for Tilton three months after retiring from military service in November 2012. Attorneys for Vergez did not respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press reported in March 2014 that Vergez and Tilton were in unusually close contact for more than a year before he retired.

In an emailed statement, Patriarch Partners said it and MD Helicopters cooperated fully with the government's investigation. "Mr. Vergez's plea agreement does not contain any allegations of improper conduct by MD Helicopters, Patriarch Partners, or any of its personnel," according to the statement.


A Philippine court entered a not guilty plea Monday for a U.S. Marine charged with murdering a transgender Filipino, allegedly after he discovered her gender when they checked into a hotel.

Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton refused to enter a plea in the brief proceeding in a court in Olongapo city northwest of Manila, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Journalists were barred from the courtroom.

Dozens of left-wing protesters waved red flags outside the courthouse, demanding justice and an end to the U.S. military presence in the former American colony. Gay and lesbian groups have also staged protests denouncing the killing of Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, as a hate crime.

Monday's arraignment paves the way for Pemberton's trial, which lawyers of the victim's family said is scheduled to start next month.



A Malaysian military contractor at the center of one of the Navy's worst corruption cases pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges in federal court Thursday — only hours after a Navy captain admitted to providing him classified information in exchange for lavish hotel rooms and prostitution services.

Leonard Glenn Francis, the chief executive of a Singapore company that has serviced Navy vessels at Asian ports for 25 years, held his hands behind his back and twiddled his fingers as he told the judge he was changing his plea to guilty.

Nicknamed "Fat Leonard," Francis and his firm obtained classified information that allowed his company to overbill the U.S. military by at least $20 million, according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors say he provided lavish hotel rooms, prostitutes and plane tickets to Navy officials who cooperated.

Francis' attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment after the hearing.

He faces up to 25 years in prison. He and his firm also must forfeit $35 million, according to the plea agreement.

The plea was entered hours after Capt. Daniel Dusek became the second Navy officer to enter a guilty plea. Dusek made his first appearance in federal court in San Diego and waived his right to present his case before a federal grand jury.

A total of four active-duty Navy personnel have been charged.



The Marine Corps should not be retrying a sergeant whose murder conviction in a major Iraq war crime case was overturned by the military's highest court after he served half of his 11-year sentence, his defense attorneys say.
 
Civilian defense attorney Chris Oprison said he has filed nine motions that he will present during a two-day hearing for Lawrence Hutchins III that starts Thursday at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, north of San Diego.

"We think all these charges should be dismissed," Oprison said. "What are they trying to get out of this Marine? He served seven years locked up, away from his wife and family. Why are they putting him through this again after he served that much time?"

The military prosecution declined to comment.

The Marine Corps ordered a retrial for Hutchins last year shortly after the ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that found his rights were violated by interrogators in 2006 when he was detained in Iraq and held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for a week.

The new defense team is asking the judge to let them go to Iraq to interview witnesses in the village of Hamdania, where Hutchins led an eight-man squad accused of kidnapping an Iraqi man from his home in April 2006, marching him to a ditch and shooting him to death. Hutchins has said he thought the man was an insurgent.

Before his release, the Marine, from Plymouth, Massachusetts, had served seven years in the brig for one of the biggest war crime cases against U.S. troops to emerge from the war. None of the other seven squad members served more than 18 months.

The military last summer re-charged Hutchins. Among the charges is conspiracy to commit murder, which Oprison said is double jeopardy. Hutchins was convicted of murder at his original trial and acquitted of murder with premeditation.

Hutchins' defense attorneys also say the military compromised his case when its investigators raided defense attorneys' offices at Camp Pendleton in May. Oprison said investigators rifled through privileged files that held "the crown jewels" of Hutchins' defense case.



A defense attorney said Thursday that a Marine accused of deserting his unit a decade ago in Iraq was kept in Lebanon for eight years while he faced a military trial there.

The Marine officer presiding over the hearing for Cpl. Wassef Hassoun adjourned the proceeding for at least a week to allow defense attorneys to translate Lebanese documents they say support his case.

The hearing officer, Lt. Col. Scott W. Martin, will eventually recommend whether Hassoun should face a military trial on charges including desertion as part of the Article 32 process, the military equivalent of a grand jury. A Marine general will have the final say on whether to try Hassoun.

Martin has given the defense at least until Aug. 27 to translate the documents, and no new court date has been set.

Defense attorney Haytham Faraj says Hassoun, 34, was kept in Lebanon for years for court proceedings triggered by U.S. accusations that he had deserted. Faraj said documents show Hassoun was tried and convicted by a Lebanese military court on charges that mirror the U.S. desertion charges. He said the Lebanese government tried Hassoun at the behest of the U.S. but did not elaborate.

Military prosecutors say Hassoun's whereabouts were unknown for years until he contacted U.S. officials in 2013. Faraj said that as soon as the court proceedings in Lebanon ended, Hassoun contacted U.S. officials saying: "I need to get back to the U.S. The Lebanese have been holding me."

The case began in June of 2004 when Hassoun disappeared from a base in Fallujah in western Iraq. About a week later, he appeared in a photo purportedly taken by insurgents. Hassoun was blindfolded and had a sword poised above his head.


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