Home of the Brave

Three attorneys tell of serving their country        

Published in 2008 Upstate New York Super Lawyers — September 2008

The Accidental Attorney

P3 Orion pilot Jim Muldoon never figured on becoming an attorney. It just sort of happened.

Jim Muldoon's career has followed a kind of hopscotch pattern—though he prefers the term "serendipitous."

The managing partner at Marjama Muldoon Blasiak & Sullivan in Syracuse specializes in intellectual property litigation in the federal and state courts. But 25 years ago he was a fresh MIT engineering school graduate who had attended on a Naval ROTC scholarship. Right out of college, he joined the Navy—and entered flight school.

Before long he was flying with an anti-submarine aircraft squadron out of bases in Keflavik, Iceland; Rhoda, Spain; and Lajes, in the Azores. "This was back in the days when Soviet submarines actually left the dock and submerged and transited with nuclear missiles," he says.

At the time, law school was barely a passing interest. But Muldoon didn't lack for ambition. It just so happened that, in his squadron, one of the top junior-officer billets was the position of legal officer. "I thought that this would be like my one little chance of exposure to the legal world," he remembers.

He took the six-week legal officer course. While there, he caught wind of a law education program that put a handful of line officers through law school each year, in hopes of producing Judge Advocate General Corps attorneys with "a real understanding of what the service is about," Muldoon says.

He applied and was accepted. "Even though I really wanted to stay in the squadron a little longer, if I didn't apply in February or March of '87, all the slots in my year group would have been filled up," he says. He got into the program, and soon was off on a full-ride scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School.

Muldoon subsequently became a member of the JAG Corps, serving from the late '80s through the period of the first Gulf War in 1992. Many of the cases he tried were criminal cases—drug distribution on base, sex abuse and the like. The experience proved invaluable. And because Muldoon worked as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor in the JAG Corps, he found it eye-opening as well.

"The term that I always used to use [as a prosecutor] was ‘those dirtbags that are screwing up my Navy,'" he jokes. However, as a defense attorney, he says, he found himself taking a different view. "It was amazing how quickly they became poor, misguided youth who had done something stupid."

 Muldoon says the JAG Corps gave him abundant courtroom experience very early in his legal career and also left him with an appreciation for technical precision in the courtroom.

"The judges required a level of precision in stating your objections and stating your cases, and I think that has assisted me in following on in my litigation career," Muldoon says. "Those basics that were established early in my litigation practice serve me well before courts and juries today."

 

What's Up, Doc?

One of James E. Reid's earliest cases remains one of his most memorable.

 James E. Reid began attending officer candidate school in 1972, just as the Vietnam War was winding down. He was supposed to head back to base at Quantico, Va., but the Marines were in desperate need for lawyers at the time—and Reid knew that was what he wanted to do eventually. So he took a deferment to attend the Syracuse University College of Law.

After graduating, he was sent in the summer of 1975 to do some on-the-job legal training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. It was a fortuitous assignment. "Camp Lejeune at the time was probably the busiest court-martial facility, dare I say, out of all the services," he says.

Reid was selected that summer to work with JAG Corps attorney Bob Winter, who is still a lawyer in Denver, to defend one of the most fascinating clients he has ever had: Capt. S.P. "Doc" Harris.

Harris, a young Marine, managed to convince a colonel at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where he was then based, that he had leadership skills. The Marines put Harris on a plane to Quantico for Officer Candidate School training. When Harris got on the plane, Reid says, he was a young man who had never finished college. By the time he got off the plane, Harris had transformed himself into a graduate from the London School of Economics with a law degree.

Somebody at Quantico bought into Harris' mythical law degree, so he was sent off to Naval Justice School, where he graduated at the top of his class. From there, for Harris, it was off to Camp Lejeune and the JAG Corps.

Harris developed a reputation as a brilliant lawyer and an aficionado of the high life. He was such a big tipper, Reid says, that a rumor swirled that Harris had scored a better table at the famed Washington, D.C., French restaurant Sans Souci than the one President Nixon had bagged.

As it turned out, Sans Souci proved to be Harris' Waterloo. There, over bottles of fine wine, an officer was extolling Harris' virtues to the head of a Marine Corps law program. The general found the tale dubious.

"From there, things began to unravel for Doc," Reid recalls. As things developed, Harris was accused not only of faking his law credentials, but also of exploiting his status as a military officer to run up bad loans and to engage in check-kiting schemes.

Reid was brought in to help assess Harris' competency to stand trial. "That's the kind of experience you got in the JAGs," he says. Fortunately, Harris had not served as a defense attorney during his tenure with the JAG Corps, though he did successfully prosecute at least one Marine, who tried later to unsuccessfully get his conviction overturned. Eventually, Harris was given a dishonorable discharge.

After that first summer, Reid was sent overseas to work as a military attorney in the Mediterranean, to put out, as he recalls, legal brush fires.

"The first port we pulled into was Genoa [Italy], and we were trying to figure out where we were supposed to report to for shore patrol," Reid says. "Suddenly these two guys were standing there going at it with tire irons." They were quickly arrested. "Then their girlfriends come out of an alleyway and they go at it with straight-edge razors," Reid says. "I'm thinking, ‘Holy mackerel, what have we gotten ourselves into?'"

What he had gotten himself into was the professional experience of a lifetime, Reid says. The JAG Corps left an indelible imprint.

"I think probably the thing that was best for me is that it taught you self-sufficiency," says Reid, who now specializes in personal injury cases in private practice at Greene & Reid. "The JAGs taught you how to work hard, to pretty much expect a lot of yourself," he says. "It was a whole mentality that you did things the right way, and that was the only way. And that stays with you for your entire career."

 

Fair and Square

Military law is no kangaroo court, according to former JAG William J. Dreyer

When William J. Dreyer entered the JAG Corps in 1969, America was in the throes of the Vietnam War. Military legal procedures were viewed by some as show trials, not unlike the rigged kangaroo court depicted in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war film Paths of Glory.

It was a false impression, says Dreyer, who went on to work as a federal prosecutor before entering private practice. "I've said many times to many people that the trials in the military after the passage of the Uniform Code of Military Justice were as fair as any trial you can get in the country," he says. "The juries were above average. The penal code of the UCMJ can serve as a model penal code for any state."

Dreyer entered the JAG Corps shortly after graduating from the New York Law School in 1969. He served as an Army captain in the JAGs for four years at Fort Knox, Ky., rapidly rising from trial attorney to chief of Fort Knox's military justice division.

The job forced him to learn fast. "When you go into the JAG Corps there is not a big training period," he says. "You're pretty much thrown into the fray, and so young attorneys who are in their 20s after law school find themselves trying special and general courts martial within a very short period of time."

Dreyer tried numerous cases, which encompassed "all varieties of military crimes," including serious felonies such as rapes and assaults. But Dreyer says one case stands out as a prime example of the judicial fairness that he prizes.

The case involved a highly decorated sergeant and former track star who was serving at the base in the early 1970s. (Because the defendant was acquitted, Dreyer declines to name the accused.) The officer was accused in a series of rapes on base. "He was simply the opposite model of what he was being charged with," Dreyer says.

The rapes allegedly occurred on the base, he notes, otherwise the trial would have likely been removed to the state courts. Dreyer wonders if the sergeant would have gotten such a fair shake there. "I would say the type of publicity that attended this case would, in a normal state case, have been difficult to overcome," he says.

The military court in which the case was tried was eminently fair, says Dreyer, who defended the suspect. "Every rule of evidence was observed, every brief was well written, everything was well done," Dreyer says. "The jurors were highly attentive to the case, and he was acquitted of the rape charge."

Dreyer left the Army in 1974 and went to work for the U.S. Attorney's office in upstate New York. While he had to adjust to the less formalistic procedures observed in federal court, he found the civilian courts relatively easy to navigate because the military courts follow federal rules of evidence. "It is not a big adjustment," he says.

Today Dreyer is a partner at Dreyer Boyajian in Albany, where he concentrates on civil and criminal litigation. He's had a wealth of experience, but he says he values the lessons learned in the JAG Corps as much as any he has absorbed over the years.

"They have very high ethical standards in the military. There is a lot of adherence to codes, to ethics—more than any other place that I've ever seen," he says. "It sounds almost bureaucratic, but in terms of establishing protocols, it's not. The patterns and behaviors and the conduct that you establish early on in your career do carry through. Those things never leave you."        

 

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