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Military Justice Division includes prosecutors, representation of command team

By Maria Childs | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | February 28, 2017

     Editor’s Note: This is part six of a seven-part series on the Of­fice of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Riley.

     The Military Justice Divi­sion of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate comprises six trial counsels who act as pros­ecutors in court, a senior trial counsel who mentors and fills in for the trial counsels, and paralegals.

     Soldiers in military justice work with each brigade legal of­fice to conduct investigations of Soldiers accused of misconduct and with the command team to determine the course of action if there is a conviction.

     Capt. Marc Emond, senior trial counsel for the OSJA, oversees cases that happen at Fort Riley. At a prior duty sta­tion, Emond was a trial coun­sel. Emond mentors and ad­vises the six trial counsels about court process.

     “We do training every other week where I set up a training schedule and get them in the courtroom practicing things,” he said. “When they are in court, I sit in and observe and help them through the court process.”

     Additionally, if a trial coun­sel has to be on a temporary duty assignment to another lo­cation, Emond picks up where the other left off.

     “If our prosecutors are out, cases still have to move for­ward,” he said. “We have time­lines and deadlines to meet.”

     Capt. J.P. Policastro serves as the trial counsel for the 2nd Ar­mored Brigade Combat Team. He has two offices, one at the OSJA and one at brigade headquarters.

     “We have a consolidated criminal law office at the OSJA and then all the brigade trial counsels have their own offices at their brigade too,” he said.

     Policastro said a trial coun­sel’s job is the equivalent to be­ing an assistant district attorney in the civilian sector.

     “The main difference be­tween a typical state justice system and the military jus­tice system is that command­ers have authority to dispose of criminal charges,” he said. “The commander is the one who orders a court martial to happen, but the commander is not the one presiding over the court martial. There’s a judge and, in some circumstances, the military version of a jury. It’s at­torneys who are actually trying the cases in front of that judge.”

     While the trial counsel’s pri­mary duty is to try court cases, they also act as a legal advisor for the command team. In a typical brigade legal services office, the brigade judge advo­cate is a major who advises the brigade commander. Policastro, who falls under the brigade judge advocate, will typically advise lower-level commanders at the company or battalion lev­el. Policastro works with Maj. Christofer Franca, the brigade judge advocate for 2nd ABCT.

     “Short of operational law, everything Maj. Franca does for the brigade commander, I also do for the lower-level com­manders,” he said.

     The 2nd ABCT legal team is covering for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team legal team while they are deployed to Korea. Certain actions require a colonel, which allows the brigade com­mander of 2nd ABCT to fill in.

     “Since 1st ABCT does not have a colonel on rear D, my colonel signs all their actions,” Policastro said.

     Like most of the divisions of the OSJA, the tasks within the military justice office overlap with other sections and the staff works with them frequently.

     “We handle all the miscon­duct,” Policastro said. “A lot of the time when someone is fac­ing misconduct, they’ve got a lot of peripheral legal issues.”

     Emond agreed giving the example of a Soldier who was informed by his command of a legal issue seeking legal ad­vice from the legal assistance office.

     Policastro said they also overlap with administrative law from time to time.

     “When an issue is being inves­tigated by the command, admin­istrative law may be advising the investigating officer, but ultimately if the misconduct is substantiated by that investigation, it’s going to come to our office,” Policastro said.

     Policastro and Emond are part of a bigger team. According to them both, the Military Justice Di­vision of the OSJA is a busy place to be with constant deadlines. With a variety of issues coming up, their primary responsibility is to assist in the legal advising of the command teams at each brigade.

     “Each brigade has its own trial counsel, or prosecutor,” Emond said. “We advise commanders and then they’re the ones who bring charges.”