By Lt. Jonathan Hawkins,
Region Legal Service Office Southeast
Judge advocates, unlike many civilian attorneys, are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At a moment’s notice, judge advocates must be ready to serve our clients whenever and wherever required. However, military duties do not preclude the opportunity to perform meaningful pro bono work, as Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Mora discovered.
“He has done immeasurable work for this tribe,” said Clifford Burgess, a Chitimacha American Indian tribal elder and former secretary-treasurer of the Chitimacha tribal council. “He went above and beyond . . . he helped us out a lot.”
Mora is assigned to Region Legal Service Office Southeast, Branch Office New Orleans. While on active duty as the staff judge advocate for Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Mora has been able to balance his official duties with his pro bono work. Mora’s pro bono service has been primarily to the citizens of the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana. Located in southern Louisiana, the Chitimacha Tribe is an American Indian Tribe of approximately 1240 members. Mora is a citizen of the Chitimacha Tribe and one of only two tribal members who are attorneys.
Mora has received many awards for his pro bono service to the Chitimacha Tribe, including the Louisiana State Bar Association “Pro Bono Publico” award, the Society of American Indian Government Employees “Agency Leadership Award”, and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
Capt. David Grogan, current U.S. Fleet Forces Fleet Judge Advocate, and Mora’s former commanding officer at Region Legal Service Office Southeast, noted that “[a]s Navy officers and attorneys, we all know how important it is to give back to the communities in which we are assigned, and no one does it better than Chris. Having been repeatedly recognized for his outstanding public service in Louisiana, Chris conveys to everyone he meets the competence and professionalism of the Navy JAG Corps. He is a great example for all of us to follow.”
Over the past twelve years, Mora’s work for the Chitimacha Tribe includes hundreds of pro bono hours, including many spent reviewing the tribe’s Tribal Code and proposing and writing changes to it, including new or revised Titles. These changes and additions included Tribal Courts, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure, Family Law & Estate Planning, Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws. Mora also developed the new Chitimacha Peacemaker Court, an Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism. According to Title I-A § 101(a) of the Chitimacha Comprehensive Codes of Justice, the Peacemaker Court is based on “mediation, restorative justice and the use of traditional ways.”
“It spells out what’s right and what’s wrong – we didn’t have that before, now we do,” said Burgess. “He did a heck of a service to the tribe; there are just not enough thanks we can give him.”
Mora has also provided pro bono legal assistance to individual tribal members in the areas of estate planning, drafting wills and health care powers of attorney, and indigent representation of low-income tribal members in the tribal court.
JAGINST 5803.1C, Enclosure (3), details the steps required for a Judge Advocate to engage in pro bono work. “It is not difficult to do. Any judge advocate who wants to perform pro bono work can submit a written request via the chain of command to Office of the Judge Advocate General’s Administrative Law Division (Code 13) for review and approval,” said Mora. “I have been in the Navy for over twelve years and have done approved pro bono work for nearly my entire career.”