Friday, August 10, 2007

The Nowak File (Remote Monitoring Edition)

As she awaits trial on charges of attacking and trying to kidnap a romantic rival, former astronaut Lisa Nowak has petitioned a Florida court to remove the ankle bracelet that allows authorities to keep tabs on her.

In a petition filed by her attorney, Nowak (a Navy Captain now stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas) called the bracelet unnecessary and too expensive. Nowak originally agreed to the device as a condition for her release, after being arraigned on charges of attempting kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault. She is accused of attacking Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman at the Orlando International Airport last February. Both Shipman and Nowak were vying for the affection of another astronaut, Navy Commander Bill Oefelein.

Under the terms of her release, Nowak is charged $105 a week for the monitoring bracelet, and has paid almost $3,000 for the device so far. According to the AP, she also claims that the bracelet interferes with her ability to exercise, drive a car, fly on a commercial plane and monitor her children in the pool.

Additionally, Captain Nowak's attorneys claim that the bracelet's manufacturer violated their client's privacy, using the case to tout their product. In motion to remove the device, the attorneys claimed that the company president invited the media to his office in early May, and specifically shared "what the bracelet could reveal about Lisa Nowak."

A Florida judge hasn't ruled on Nowak's request, but we'll go out on a limb and predict that her motion will be rejected. Too expensive? You decide. Here's a link to the current military pay chart, published by the Military Times newspapers. Capt Nowak was commissioned in 1985, but as a Naval Academy grad, her time at the "Boat School" also counts for pay purposes, and in calculating the date she entered service. So, as a Captain (O-6) with 26 years of service, she receives $145,182.05 in basic pay, basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) and basic allowance for housing (BAH). She also receives $250 a month in flight pay.

All told, Captain Nowak earns just under $150,000 a year. Obviously, she's got bills to pay--not to mention attorney's fees--but it's hard to believe that someone making over $12,000 a month can't afford $105 for a monitoring bracelet that keeps her out of jail. We're guessing that a lot of other folks facing charges in Florida (with much lower incomes) find some way to pay their bill--a point the judge will probably make in response to Nowak's motion.

As for her other arguments, let's be charitable and say they're without merit. As a staff officer who's "flying a desk" (pending outcome of the Florida case), Nowak is, most likely, on an "individual" physical training program, meaning that she doesn't have to turn out and exercise with everyone else. If it's embarrassing to wear that bracelet in the gym, then exercise at home, or wear a pair of sweat pants that cover the device.

And, if it interferes with her ability to drive a car, fly on an airliner or splash in the pool with her kids, well there are obvious remedies for those problems as well. But you'll note that Nowak's attorneys use the term "interfere" rather than "prohibit." In other words, wearing that device is humiliating and inconvenient for the former astronaut, so the court should remove it.

Rubbish. Lisa Nowak is facing serious charges, and she's lucky to be out of jail. If that bracelet is a bit embarrassing or awkward, well it's designed that way. The court has a right to track the movements of accused criminals who are out on bond, and the public has right to know that such individuals are in their midst. If that means a little inconvenience for the accused, too bad.

In fact, we're a bit surprised that Nowak's defense team filed the motion. It seems to suggest that their client deserves special treatment, given her former career as an astronaut. We'd say that Captain Nowak lost that consideration when she went on that 900-mile road trip, and attacked Colleen Shipman in Orlando. We believe that the Florida court will be unimpressed with Nowak's motion, and the good Captain will still be wearing the device when she goes on trial next month.


As always, we'll defer to the legal experts in our audience, but we've been consistently puzzled by the actions of Nowak's attorneys in this case. Long before the bracelet became an issue, one of her lawyers (Donald Lykkebak) pitched a fit with the media, insisting that his client did not wear a "space diaper" during her journey to confront Captain Shipman. Huh? His client is accused of serious crimes, and Mr. Lykkebak wants to correct the "diaper" story. Way to go, counselor.

And, more recently, the Nowak defense team took offense at NASA's use of her incident to investigate astronaut health and conduct, which revealed that some were legally intoxicated as they blasted off into space. While Captain Nowak was not one of the astronauts who were tipsy at liftoff, the lawyer claimed that linking her name to the report further sullied her reputation.

That's assuming, of course, that Captain Nowak has any reputation left to sully.


Anonymous said...

Since the chart is based upon actual rank/time in rank statistics, I'd like to know who's the sad butterbars with 14+ years as an O-1.

Unknown said...

Those (typically) would be former enlisted personnel who earn their commission after years of enlisted service. One of my classmates at USAF Officer Training School (in the mid-80s) was a Master Sergeant with 16 years of service.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I interpreted the section just below the O-x paygrades (the section with O-1E through O-3E paygrades for officers with more than four years of enlisted/warrant officer service) to mean that the O-1 with 14+ years in had been an officer from Day 1.

Steve said...

Unless Law has changed, Service academy personnel do not get longevity credit for their time in the academy. I.e., a newly commissioned USNA ensign does not start hisher career as an O-1 over four years for pay purposes. However, an enlisted naval reservist in a commissioning program can accrue such pay credit. As you know, cadets/midshipmen get a cost-free education and a monthly pay that used to be about the same as that of an E5. Oh, yes - they also receive a regular commission (with rare exception, OCS and other commissioning programs assign Reserve commissions, and have a senior lineal number to OCS, etc commission accession programs. That means they pin on successive promotions ahead of non-academy officers, thus starting to receive new new grade's pay sooner. The differnce between CAPT N and me is that she apparently knows the Federal Stock Number (FSN) for an aviator's "Piddle Pack" and I don't...

Unknown said...

Steve--The rules have changed a bit in recent years. First, newly-commissioned officers--from all sources--now receive a reserve commission. And, academy time does count toward longevity, since cadets are considered on active duty. Also, at least in the Air Force, full-time ROTC students could not be a member of the ANG or AFRES while enrolled in ROTC, so they could not accumulate time toward their total active military service credit. Finally, a friend of mine, Air Force Academy class of '85, just retired as a Colonel (this individual was promoted twice below the zone). However, her "total" service time was based on a 1981 entry into active duty, thanks to her time as a cadet.