In August of 2019, Richard Spencer, who at the time was the Secretary of the Navy, ordered a review of the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG Corps) and the Marine Corps Judge Advocate (JA) to uncover organizational and procedural issues contributing to the ineffective and inefficient legal services of these communities. An executive review panel, comprised of public and private sector professionals, was appointed to conduct a comprehensive examination.

In December of 2019, the panel released its findings, detailing areas of concern, including culture, organization, and training issues. Additionally, it provided 99 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of legal professionals in the Navy and Marine Corps JAGs.


The report cited several incidents that directly led to the decision to start the review and the need for action to correct legal errors and prevent them from continuing in the future.

One such event was that concerning the case of United States v. Barry. A senior chief petty officer had been convicted of sexual assault. The convening authority had reviewed the case and had doubts about the officer's guilt. He considered reversing the conviction but was told by a Deputy Judge Advocate General that he had no power to take such action. However, this information was incorrect. The case was taken to appeals, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF), threw out the officer's conviction, citing unlawful command influence.

In a second case, United States v. Benson, a commander of a ship faced various charges, including negligent homicide, after his vessel collided with another. The accident resulted in the death of 7 U.S. sailors. In this case, the convening authority was disqualified after acting on advice from his legal advisor and trial counsel. As a result, charges were dismissed.

Lastly, the report cites United States v. Gallagher as another case that ultimately led to the JAG and JA review. A chief petty officer was charged with the murder of an enemy fighter. However, because of misconduct involving illegally monitoring emails of the defense, the prosecutor was dismissed from the case. The officer was acquitted of all charges except posing for a picture with a human casualty.


The panel focused on specific areas of the JAG Corps and JA communities.

The panel identified several issues, which it categorized into 5 themes:

  • Culture: The panel stated that the Navy JAG Corps needs to have processes in place that allow it to learn from past mistakes and be more accountable for performance. It recognized that the Marine Corps has an effective learning culture in place, but strengthening the processes would still be beneficial.

A few of the recommendations the panel made to remedy the ineffective culture in the Navy JAG Corps include adopting principles that recognize the dual role of officer and legal professional, provide military and legal education, and work with Bar Associations to develop professional rules and processes.

The panel’s recommendation for the Marine Corps JA is to strengthen legal experiencedise.

  • Organization: The panel reported that organizational structures do not clearly delineate the responsibilities of the legal professionals, which causes confusion within the community.

The panel recommends for the Navy JAG Corps, among others things, establishing clear procedures for delivering legal information and advice to others, ensuring relationships between and among professionals clearly align, and defining minimum experience and education requirements for roles.

For the Marine Corps JA, recommendations include ensuring stakeholders understand the roles of legal professionals, and increasing recruitment and retention through a Law School Education Debt Subsidy program.

  • Education and training: According to the panel, Navy and Marine Corps commanders and judge advocates do not get timely and continual training, which contributes to inefficiency.

A couple of the recommendations for Navy JAG improvement include establishing legal decision-making flowcharts, and providing training on how the military justice system works and how to maintain accountability.

The recommendations for the Marine Corps JA include providing professional responsibility training and establishing mentorship programs, as well as maintaining a system for logging proficiency of legal services.

  • Resourcing: The panel states that the case processes employed by both the Navy and Marine Corps are ineffective and inefficient. Additionally, neither has sufficient physical security in courtrooms.

For the Navy JAG, some of the panel recommendations include developing a documented policy that defines career and competency expectations, as well as considering having retired Commanders and Captains serve as military judges.

The panel made several recommendations for the Marine Corps JA, such as starting a program for Defense Services Organization investigators; when necessary, including the Chief Defense Counsel on the Marine Corps Judge Advocacy Board; and having a civilian attorney advisor working at the Victims’ Legal Counsel Organization headquarters.

  • Unlawful command influence: The recent high-profile cases in both the Navy and Marine Corps shows that superiors have unlawfully interfered in cases, affecting the fairness of the legal processes and the independence of convening authorities.

For the Navy JAG, the panel recommends ensuring that all legal professionals know and understand what constitutes unlawful command influence.

In addition to providing guidance and training about unlawful command influence, the Marine Corps JAG has also been tasked with including military legal matter training, establishing a yearly refresher course for convening authorities, and continuing to enforce commander accountability measures.

The Navy and Marine Corps are putting together teams to ensure compliance with the panel’s recommendations.


The importance of the panel’s report is that it exposes errors in legal services that have created unfairness in the military justice system. However, by doing that, it also begins to force the professionals in these communities to recognize and correct flawed or missing processes and procedures, thereby moving the system in the direction of increased fairness.

Military Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph L. Jordan believes in seeking justice for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. He has extensive experience in the legal system, including working as an Army JAG Corps Officer, and has handled complex military crime cases worldwide. If you're facing criminal accusations, contact Attorney Joseph Jordan for the dedicated and skilled defense you need.

Discuss your case with his firm by calling (866) 971-4355 or filling out an online contact form.