By Navy JAG Corps Public Affairs
On Nov. 2, 2018, the Navy’s ground-breaking Victims’ Legal Counsel (VLC) program received the American Bar Association’s (ABA) annual Frank Carrington Crime Victim Attorney Award in Washington, D.C. The award was accepted by Ms. Charlotte Cluverius, deputy director of the VLC program, along with Cmdr. Claire Huffstetler (VLC, Naval District Washington) and Lt. Paul Wagoner (VLC, Navy Region Southwest).
“After the first five years of representing victims of sexual offenses throughout the Navy, we are honored to be recognized by the civilian bar through the Criminal Justice Section of the ABA,” said Capt. Lisa Sullivan, director of the VLC program, upon learning about the program’s achievement. “This affirmation of our practice represents not only the success of the Navy VLC program, but the recognition that the Navy, and the military overall, is leading the nation in the burgeoning area of victim advocacy in the criminal justice process — and proving unequivocally that providing this critical legal service to victims can succeed.”
Since the VLC program’s inception in 2013, it has assisted more than 4,200 sexual offense victims. The VLC team — which includes 33 dedicated judge advocates — helps victims better understand the investigative and litigation processes; guards their legal rights and interests through in-court advocacy, motion practice, and dialogue with their commands; and connects them to other legal assistance services, such as family lawyers.
VLCs go above an beyond the normal obligations of a typical employee; as military personnel, they are always on the job, ready to assist clients at all hours of the day. They are part of a worldwide practice, which is capable of responding to issues in every location, even on deployed vessels or in theater. Additionally, VLCs are vocal policy advocates, testifying before Congress and independent federal advisory committees to promote reforms that benefit crime victims.
To date, the VLC program’s most innovative reform has been retaining national local victims’ counsel. In the past, Navy personnel who were assaulted by local nationals overseas often received divergent and unpredictable case outcomes, and VLC in these locations confronted cultural differences, language barriers, and resistance to VLC involvement in court proceedings. To address this issue, VLC now retains a civilian VLC-equivalent local counsel in Bahrain and has a process in place to retain similar services for victims in Italy and Spain — a first-of-its-kind initiative that distinguishes the VLC program from other service equivalents.
“Of course, it is our exceptional people and their incredible accomplishments that garnered this prestigious commendation,” added Sullivan. “Our VLC and Yeomen bring professionalism, expertise and compassion to every case, ensuring that victims understand their choices and have a voice in the process. We are proud of what our people do every single day for their clients, the JAG Corps, the Navy, and the legal profession as a whole.”
The late attorney Mr. Frank Carrington had a tremendous impact on the crime victim movement in the United States, which is memorialized each year by this ABA award. Carrington founded and served as executive director of the Victims Legal Assistance Organization in Virginia, was a director of the National Organization for Victims Assistance, and was a member of the California Attorney General’s Commission on Victims. He also was appointed to the U.S. president’s Task Force on Victims of Crime (1982) and was Vice-Chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Victims Committee.
A testimonial from one victim demonstrates why the work of VLCs is so important, and why this special award is well-deserved.
“[My VLC was] patient, understanding and very familiar with Navy law, which made him an excellent advisor throughout a stressful and overwhelming process. He … provided very intelligent and legally supported answers and guidance to all of my (many) questions and concerns.”