Judge advocates (JAGs) in the US Coast Guard serve a unique function among the US Armed Forces. They represent an Armed Force that is also a law enforcement and regulatory agency tasked with preserving maritime safety and security in US and international waters. As a JAG at an operational district in New Orleans and later at the Office of Maritime and International Law in Washington, DC, I found myself engaged in regulatory and enforcement matters regarding commercial shipping. As a young attorney, I learned two critical lessons: (1) the need to balance the public interests with the needs of lawful commerce; and (2) the difficulty of striking that balance. This article offers the upshots from my experience advising marine inspectors and working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors to enforce vessel pollution laws for more than 20 federal criminal cases.
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