Monday, April 28, 2008

MRFF mishandles lawsuit.

Specialist Jeremy Hall is in an unenviable position due to no fault of his own. He has a valid complaint against a superior officer, Major Freddy J. Welborn, for disrupting a meeting of an atheist and freethought group he was trying to start. In a sworn statement Jeremy Hall says that Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them for trying to form the group. Major Welborn says Jeremy Hall's version of events is "a false story", but another soldier who attended the meeting backs Jeremy Hall's version of events. The problem here is that Jeremy Hall's lawyer, Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, by filing a lawsuit against the Army without first attempting to resolve the problem through the Army’s Equal Opportunity Office, did not act in his client's best interest.

It is understandable that Specialist Hall would not want to file a complaint with the Army’s Equal Opportunity Office because of mistrust of his superior officers. Nevertheless, a competent lawyer, who was acting in his client's best interest, would patiently explain to his client that first taking the complaint EEO and giving the accused a fair opportunity to confront the accusation before proceeding with a lawsuit is the proper procedure. The lawyer would explain why not going to the EEO would undermine his standing for asserting a right to a lawsuit and weaken his case as a plaintiff in the event the lawsuit is accepted regardless of the outcome of the EEO process. No soldier is going to find his superior officers more trustworthy after the soldier files a lawsuit without first going through the EEO process. On the contrary, doing that actually provides a reason for the soldier's superior officers to distrust that soldier. Judges, confronted with such a lawsuit, are going to question why they should be deciding a discrimination complaint that was not first brought before the EEO and whether, by skipping that process, the defendant was denied his right to a fair hearing and negotiated resolution before being charged in a lawsuit.

The EEO would probably have upheld Jeremy Hall's right to form the atheist and freethinker group and hold meetings without threats or negative career repurcussions. If problems continued from there, then the plaintiff would have been in a much stronger position to pursue a lawsuit, having first exhausted the EEO process for resolving the problems.

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers referred Jeremy Hall to MRFF. My advice to the MAAF, and to other soldiers, is this: Unless Mikey Weinstein acknowledges that he made a mistake by not insisting that his client go through with the EEO process before proceeding with the lawsuit, don't refer anyone else with a discrimination or EC complaint to MRFF. Tell them to avoid the MRFF and find a good lawyer who is committed to his clients who specializes in EO or EC cases instead.

1 comment:

  1. I have been told by someone who is knowledgeable about what Jeremy tried to do to resolve his situation before deciding to sue (he did not agree to being identified on this blog, however). He wrote "suffice it to say that Jeremy's attempts to get this addressed through the normal channels were beyond futile."