Pro Bono Win for Navy Veteran
RJO won a significant pro bono victory for a former Navy Chief Petty Officer, who was discharged from the service involuntarily after 19 ½ years. Well over 11 years of his service time had been spent deployed overseas in combat tours away from his wife and children. His involuntary separation was based upon convictions in civilian court for assault and attempted malicious wounding, in an incident involving his estranged wife and her boyfriend. While in jail awaiting trial, the Navy mistakenly continued to pay him for a time. Even though he questioned the payments at the time, the Navy sought to recover nearly $80,000 in pay and over $50,000 in fees and penalties. The civilian review board with jurisdiction to ensure that service members are treated fairly looked at all available evidence, including his exemplary service record and post-separation conduct, concluding that he had suffered long enough for this one mistake. It concluded that, while not condoning his conduct, he should be credited with six months of service and retired. But the Secretary of the Navy overruled that recommendation in a half-page page decision. The Court of Federal Claims agreed with RJO that the Secretary’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence. The decision is available on the Court’s website.
The court ordered that RJO’s client be retired with all pay and benefits, allowing the Navy to offset from his back pay only the $80,000 overpayment, but no fees or penalties. Lucas Hanback argued the case with Jeff Chiow on the briefs. Lucas was an artillery officer and Jeff an F/A-18D Naval Flight Officer, both serving combat tours in the U.S. Marine Corps, before they became lawyers.