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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Military Justice Reform Advocates Sue for Service Member Prosecution Records

wood paneled courtroom

On Nov. 3, Protect Our Defenders (POD) and the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) filed suit in federal court in Connecticut to compel the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to release records illuminating how active duty service members are prosecuted for sexual assault and other serious offenses. The suit comes at a time when the public and Congress are focused on reforming the military justice system, which for years has failed to stem the epidemic of military sexual trauma, according to the suit. The withheld records are expected to confirm that the military justice system fails victims of service member crimes by under-prosecuting serious offenses.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) at Yale Law School represents POD and CVLC.


“The Pentagon has resisted efforts to reform the military justice system for years. Despite recent progress in Congress, resistance persists,” said Col. Don Christensen (Ret.), President of Protect Our Defenders, referring to partial passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which transferred prosecution authority for certain serious offenses from military commanders to an independent military prosecutor corps. “Congress, the public, victims of service member crimes, and service members themselves deserve to know if the military justice system is fulfilling its purpose, or if it’s falling short of its civilian counterparts.”

Alden Pinkham ’20 of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, the country’s first medical-legal partnership with the VA, said that lawyers who work with veterans have seen the failures of the military justice system.

“Every day we serve our state’s most vulnerable veterans, many of whom were disserved by the military justice system,” said Pinkham, whose organization represents veterans in discharge upgrades and veterans benefits matters. “We work to help them pick up the pieces after their service and right previous wrongs, but we should not be their first recourse. Justice should be served equitably.”

The Department of Defense and Department of Justice failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, as required by law. Their silence prompted the current suit, according to the clinic.

“The Army, Navy, and Air Force’s failure to respond to our clients’ FOIA requests is not only disappointing, but illegal,” said Renée Mihail ’24, a law student intern with the clinic. An Army veteran herself, Mihail added, “I have seen the Uniform Code of Military Justice in action. Transparency is necessary to push officials’ commitment to implementing military justice reform beyond lip service.”

The lawsuit asks the court to compel the agencies to conduct a reasonable search for and promptly disclose all responsive, nonexempt records from the last 15 years of prosecution agreements between military and civilian authorities, and data on prosecution and disposition of sexual assault and other serious crimes in and around military bases in California, New York, Texas, and Virginia.  

Protect Our Defenders (POD) is the only national organization solely dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military and to combating a culture of pervasive misogyny, sexual harassment, and retribution against victims. 

Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC), a legal services organization based in West Haven, works to help Connecticut’s veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare, and income.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic is part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School.