Humorous things happen to military litigators. Here are four of my personal best memories:
“MAY GOD STRIKE ME DEAD….” I was stationed at the now-closed Perrin AFB in Sherman TX. The old World War II barracks housing the legal office contained a highly inefficient air-conditioning system. The AC was carried via large metallic pipes overhead throughout the offices and courtroom. I was defense counsel, trying to shore up my accused’s story. The defense-friendly witness helped us, saying words to the effect, “May God strike me dead on this very spot, if I’m not telling the entire truth.” We took a comfort break. Just then, the heavy AC pipes came crashing down, virtually shattering the witness box. I pleaded — unsuccessfully — for a mistrial on the grounds that Divine intervention might have suggested my star witness was not 100% accurate….
A FAILING GRADE WITH THE RULES OF EVIDENCE? As a new and not very well trained defense counsel, I objected on grounds of privilege to what I thought just maybe was an improper prosecution question. “No,” responded the military judge, “do you have any other ground for objection?” It never crossed my mind that the judge was simply testing me. Foolishly, I kept trying. I ran through a list of increasingly absurd reasons to object, including the catchall “irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.” Each time, the seasoned military judge denied me and invited me to state another reason. I ultimately responded, “your Honor — my objections don’t seem to be working. But perhaps there’s something I’m missing… would your Honor be so kind as to let me know… am I getting any warmer?”
TELLING THE TRUTH. Years ago, Air Force judge advocates did not have the benefit of such splendid institutions as the Naval Justice School or the Army JAG School at Charlottesville. This was well before the superb Maxwell AFB JAG School To say the least, our practice was a bit ‘free.’ Once, I was defending and a prosecution witness appeared to fully support the story of the accused. To test him, I inquired whether the witness was absolutely certain his story was the entire truth. He answered affirmatively. I pushed with this question: “Yes, but is it the God’s truth?” His answer sunk the prosecution: “God’s truth? No sir, it’s the truth…but not the God’s truth!”
WE ARE MARRIED….. The accused in a court-martial was Air Force, but his mother had remarried, her new husband being a Navy commander. During her testimony, she proudly pointed to a lapel pin on her business suit. She indicated to the panel that her husband had lovingly given her the pin—which showed several Navy semaphore flags – and it established her as a new Navy wife. After the trial, I was approached by a member of the panel, who explained that he had prior Navy enlisted time before entering the Air Force. Don’t tell the nice lady, he explained, but there is no Navy semaphore flag indicating marriage. Well, I asked, what do the semaphore flags on her pin indicate? He responded: “Permission to lay alongside granted.”