Thursday, June 24, 2004
Reservist lawyer files federal suit over practice rule
He asserts that the policy that Army lawyers are not permitted to practice civilian law after they are activated is not widely known.
A Roanoke lawyer who serves as a U.S. Army reservist filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the acting secretary of the Army, arguing that the Army should not be allowed to enforce a policy against him that he should not have practiced civilian law after he was activated for military duty.
The allegations made by Gary Bowman, an independent candidate for the House of Delegates last year, also helped shed more light on how his fellow soldier in the 2174th Garrison Support Unit of the Army Reserve, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee, was released from active duty after 3 1/2 months.
And the lawsuit contains some interesting dynamics, as Bowman has sued Acting Secretary of the Army R.L. Brownlee, who is John Brownlee's father.
In essence, Bowman asserts in his lawsuit that the policy that Army lawyers, also known as judge advocates, are not permitted to practice civilian law after they are activated is not widely known among reservists. He is seeking class-action status in the lawsuit for other Army lawyers in the reserves and National Guard who find themselves in the same situation.
The rationale behind the prohibition, according to the lawsuit, is for Army lawyers to avoid conflicts of interest and from being distracted from their non-Army work.
Bowman filed the lawsuit in part to challenge a letter of reprimand he received from the Army after he was discharged in September. The letter claimed that Bowman repeatedly violated Army ethics by continuing to practice civilian law after he had been activated, according to the lawsuit. He has challenged the veracity of the claim and does not want it to prevent him from being promoted.
"As a citizen-soldier, I responded cheerfully when called to active duty, leaving my family, my law practice, my political career and suffering serious financial hardship," Bowman, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia law school, said in the lawsuit.
The unit reported for duty at Fort Eustis in January 2003.
While Bowman admits that he once used a government fax machine to send a document in a civilian case while he was at Fort Eustis, he argued that the incident had been investigated and that a superior found he had acted in good faith based on the guidance he received.
Bowman, who said he has about 300 cases in his civilian practice at any time, said he stopped taking new cases and tried to wrap up other ones when he learned he might be activated in December 2002. But he said he was activated so quickly that he did not have time to reschedule many court proceedings, according to his lawsuit.
Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Caldwell, who commanded both Bowman and Brownlee as colonel of the 2174th, was not able to read the lawsuit late Wednesday afternoon. But Caldwell said the issue of how the Army should treat people who are in business when they are activated and whether they should have an opportunity to continue their civilian employment needs to be addressed.
Doctors, for example, are activated for only 90 days so they can return to their practices, said Caldwell, who returned to his civilian job in February.
The issue arose with respect to their unit in April 2003 when a press inquiry raised the question of whether it was appropriate for Brownlee to serve as U.S. attorney after he had been activated for military service, according to Bowman's lawsuit.
Bowman said in the lawsuit that Brownlee was released from active duty in response to the inquiry "because he was prohibited from serving as a reserve judge advocate while he was also serving as the civilian United States attorney."
Caldwell confirmed that Bowman's assertion was accurate.
But Caldwell said the prohibition against Army lawyers continuing their civilian practice was an "obscure regulation that nobody knew about."
Caldwell added, "I think John Brownlee has been unfairly maligned over this issue of his being called to active duty."
When reached for comment, Brownlee reiterated his earlier statement that he was released from active duty by the Department of Defense at the request of the Department of Justice. Federal authorities wanted him to return to his post as U.S. attorney, Brownlee said.
Brownlee was released from active duty May 1, 2003. He said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on Bowman's lawsuit.