A rare naval tradition was observed onboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as the First Navy Jack was hoisted up the signal yardarm, indicating a General Court-Martial was being held at sea.
With all the gallery chairs filled, it was standing room only for the hundreds of Sailors and Officers witnessing the three courts-martial. Harkening back to the roots of the military justice system, the proceedings were open to all hands. Many of the crew watched the proceedings from start to finish; learning firsthand about the military justice system while promoting good order and discipline.Charges for the three courts-martial included conspiracy, fraudulent appointment, desertion, missing movement, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, wrongful use of a controlled substance, and conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.
The last courts-martial of any kind to take place at sea was in 2012 onboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68). However, a General Court-Martial at sea is such a rarity that there is no record of the last occurrence. The courts took place during the ship’s transit from Bremerton, Wash., to San Diego, Calif. From San Diego, the Stennis headed West to begin an around the world deployment and change of homeport.
Capt. Ann K. Minami, the presiding military judge over all three cases, best captured the moment, stating, “[w]e in the JAG Corps, both enlisted and officers, are very proud when we can provide fair military justice to wherever the Fleet is located and in a manner that is worthy of respect."
Several departments from the Stennis contributed to the success of the military justice proceedings, including Supply, Engineering, Deck, Combat Systems, Security, Media, and Legal Departments. Trial Counsel for the courts-martial included Lt. Justin Bennett, Lt. Mark Jessup, Lt. Bryan Dove, and Lt. Cooper Jones of Region Legal Service Office Northwest (RLSO NW). Legalman 1st Class Patricia Quick and Legalman 2nd Class Joseph Shepherd served as legal support for the Government and court reporter, respectively. The defendants were represented by Lt. R. Blake Royall of Defense Service Office West Detachment Bremerton, with legal support from Legalman 1st Class Kevan Santos, and by Mr. Stephen Karns, Esq., civilian defense counsel.
Lt. Cmdr. Leah O’Brien, the Senior Trial Counsel at RLSO NW, stated, “I’m thrilled that our RLSO/Defense Service Office/Judiciary/Stennis team could come together so quickly and flex to fit into the Stennis ’s operational schedule so that we could accomplish these cases in a timely fashion for the command and the accused. Executing these courts was truly a team effort.”