From the Chair...

Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
for Military Personnel

It is my pleasure to be taking up the position of Chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) during this 2011-12 bar year. I am honored to be serving in this capacity and to have the opportunity to carry on the outstanding work of our immediate past-chair, Admiral Don Guter. I look forward to working with our highly visible, highly active committee and its members, as well as with other standing committees and entities within the ABA, to improve access to—and the quality of—legal assistance provided to the members of the armed forces and their families, and to further enhance the legal protections for those who serve in our military through policy and legislative advocacy.

First, let me welcome our three other new members this year. Army Major General (retired) Kenneth Gray, who is currently the Vice President for Student Affairs at West Virginia University and is well known and respected in the JAG community. Next is U.S. Army Colonel (retired) Bryan Spencer, who has a long history with the LAMP Committee and other ABA entities, and who is extremely involved in work to deliver legal services to military personnel and veterans as Director of the State Bar of Texas’s LAMP Committee. Finally we welcome Cynthia Valentin, an exceptionally accomplished retired Marine Corps Colonel, who is currently serving as legal counsel to the National Women’s Marine Association. I have no doubt that adding these diverse and talented members to our already impressive committee membership will result in great work in this new bar year.

I am happy to report in this column on the success of one of the last items of business under Admiral Guter’s tenure. At the 2011 ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto the House of Delegates passed Resolution 120. The LAMP Committee prepared this resolution seeking to improve and strengthen the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Over the course of the last year, LAMP had been developing proposed amendments to the Act to better protect service members returning to civilian employment following overseas deployments. The Committee’s work culminated in a Resolution and Report presented to the House of Delegates, advocating for Congressional action to amend the Act by:

  • adding provisions to require employers to provide certain reasonable accommodations for returning veterans with combat injuries that may not manifest themselves until after a return to work;
  • providing authority for the award of comprehensive attorney’s fees, costs, and damages to redress violations of the Act;
  • making unenforceable any clause of any agreement between an employer and an employee that requires arbitration of a dispute under the Act; and
  • authorizing the U.S. Department of Labor to initiate investigation and prosecution of appropriate claims to address patterns and practices of USERRA violations rising to the level of a nationally-compelling interest.

Now that the House has approved the Resolution, and the Committee has begun work with the Governmental Affairs Office to move the Resolution’s recommendations forward. We are grateful for the support and cosponsorship we received from the Standing Committee on Armed Forces Law, the General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division, the Young Lawyers Division, the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and the Diversity Caucus. I would like to particularly commend current LAMP member, General Gill Beck, and former member Captain Charlotte Wise, for all of their excellent work in preparing the research and report that became the basis for this Resolution.

Distinguished Service Award presentation to Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic. Pictured (L to R): Rear Admiral Nanette M. DeRenzi, Deputy Judge Advocate General; Captain Dwain Alexander, II, ABA LAMP Committee Member; Captain Michael T. Palmer, Commanding Officer, Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic.

Finally, I would like to report on the winners of the LAMP Distinguished Service Awards for 2010. These award winners were selected by the Committee at our March 2011 meeting, but the Dialogue publication schedule has not allowed us the opportunity to announce them here until this issue. So we are pleased to acknowledge our Group Award winners:

  • the 355th Fighter Wing, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ;
  • the North Carolina National Guard Legal Assistance Program, Raleigh, NC;
  • the Reserve Judge Advocate Command Support Section (RJACSS), Legal Service Support Section, Marine Forces Reserve; and
  • the Naval Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic.

We also recognize our Individual Award winners:

  • Mr. Brian Novak, Chief of Legal Assistance Division and Tax Center Manager, 502 Air Base Group, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Joint Base San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston, TX;
  • Mr. Charles P. "Chuck" Koutras, Legal Assistance Attorney, US Army South, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Fort Sam Houston, TX; and
  • Lieutenant Matthew Cox, JAGC, USN, Naval Legal Service Office Pacific (Pearl Harbor, Hawaii).

The Committee has been arranging award presentations around the country involving our members and military leadership, and it continues to be our privilege to highlight the incredible achievements in the area of legal assistance by all of the winners and nominees for the Distinguished Service Award.

In closing, as a frequent attendee of LAMP committee meetings as the Commandant of the Air Force JAG School, it is a privilege to continue to have the opportunity to serve our nation’s service men and women through the LAMP Committee as it carries out its mission to support the civil legal needs of military members, and I look forward to reporting on our successes in this arena in future issues of Dialogue.