Thursday, August 9, 2007

Coast Guard Court May Find New Home

This story should really hit home with anyone who has been in trouble with the US Coast Guard. I frequently find articles on mariners being tried for various offenses- often substance related- or for accidents. In an article by the Baltimore Sun there are many allegations that are quite serious and may have effected the fair treatment Merchant Mariners:

  • In two internal memos obtained by The Sun, Ingolia issued private instructions telling other judges how to rule, a practice legal experts and judges from other agencies call inappropriate, and a possible violation of federal laws that require judicial rules to be published and subject to challenge.

  • Attorneys on the chief judge's staff and an attorney on the commandant's staff who helps write appellate decisions have met privately with prosecutors about open cases, according to internal e-mails and court records, an ethical breach that defense attorneys and legal experts are calling obstruction of justice.

  • Records at the Coast Guard's docket center in Baltimore are rife with complaints from defense lawyers who describe hostile hearings, with judges behaving as advocates for the Coast Guard and taking over the interrogation of mariners.

  • One judge expressed fear for his job if he didn't rule in favor of the Coast Guard, despite his belief that the mariner had offered compelling evidence of his innocence, according to court records.

Currently there is Bi-partisan support in the senate to investigate this thouroughly and possible remove the courts from the Coast Guard control. There is also a hearing coming up in which three former judges are going to testify against the organization to the unfair treatment of mariners. Judge Jeffie J. Massey, who retired this year, said in a sworn statement that she was told by Chief Judge Joseph N. Ingolia to always rule in the Coast Guard's favor and came under intense pressure when she did not. Analysis of the court's records reveal a striking imbalance in the decisions of its judges. Mariners have lost virtually every case before the court over the past eight years. Of more than 6,300 charges filed by Coast Guard investigators since 1999, mariners have prevailed in only 14 cases - three of which the agency is still pursuing; trying to reverse the initial decision on appeal. Including dismissals, the Coast Guard wins or reaches a settlement in 97 percent of its cases.

Here is the original story by the Baltimore Sun,0,3992043.story
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