Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Nowak File (Navy Justice Edition)

When we last left Lisa Nowak, the one-time Navy "Golden Girl" (and former astronaut), she was departing an Orlando courtroom, after being convicted on burglary and misdemeanor assault charges stemming from her attack on a romantic rival.

Based on the sentence imposed, we'd say the civilian court let her off easy. Nowak, a Navy Captain, received only two days in jail for her crimes (with credit for time already served), one year's probation and instructions to write a letter of apology to Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, the woman she attacked. Shipman was then dating Navy Commander Bill Oefelein, another astronaut who was previously involved with Nowak.

Now, Lisa Nowak is facing military justice. Florida Today reports that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service recently took control of evidence accumulated in the case. NCIS agents delivered that information to Admiral Bill Sizemore, the Chief of Naval Air Training who is Nowak's current commander. Admiral Sizemore will now decide what additional punishment the military will impose.

According to the Navy JAG officer handling the case, the admiral's options range from a letter of censure or reprimand, to dismissal from the service. Under that latter option, Nowak would lose her Navy career and pension, an estimated $5600 a month (based on her current rank). Sizemore could also reduce Captain Nowak in grade and force her to retire, reducing pension benefits.

A Navy spokesman said that Sizemore is "making progress towards a decision," but gave no indication when it might be made. However, we find it interesting that Captain Nowak has parted ways with her high-priced civilian attorney (Donald Lykkebak), who represented her during criminal court proceedings in Orlando. Apparently, Nowak will rely on a military attorney for representation in the military justice system.

To be fair, that sort of move is not uncommon. Only a few civilian attorneys practice in the military system, and Mr. Lykkebak may lack the required expertise. There's also the possibility that Captain Nowak may want to avoid additional legal bills as she faces the end of her Navy career, opting to rely on a "free" military attorney.

But we think there's a third option at play in the Nowak case. The one-time astronaut may believe that Admiral Sizemore will administer a lesser form of administrative punishment, meaning that Nowak leaves the Navy with a letter of reprimand (and possibly at a lower rank), but with her pension and retirement benefits intact.

It's a clear gamble, but the odds may favor Captain Nowak. We can think of several cases where senior officers received demotions and/or stiff fines, but avoided dismissal from service. In one particularly egregious incident, an Air Force Colonel, stationed at a base in Arizona, was convicted of a number of "consensual" sexual offenses in the early 1990s.

According to testimony at his courts-martial, the good Colonel was the leader of a local swinging club, participating in sex with men and women in his group while conducting several affairs on the side (and this was before Viagara). The courts-martial panel found him guilty of multiple offenses and he was sentenced to one year at Leavenworth. But his sentence did not include dismissal from service, so the Colonel emerged from jail with his pension and retirement.

Based on our reading of the tea leaves, Lisa Nowak will escape with an even lighter sentence. Look for her to slip quietly out the door later this year, as either a Captain or Commander. The Nowak case has been a public relations debacle for the Navy, and the service wants to end it, quickly and with minimum fanfare.


mariner said...

Can you name one case in which a female officer has been severely punished for ANY offense?

gr8scott said...

Joan of Arc?

JoeC said...

Ahhh the old military double jeopardy.... 1st time through the civil courts, 2nd time through the military. I suppose it has to be that way, not fully understood when you first sign up.... But at her longevity, it should come as no surprise. I figured the navy would give her a quiet tribunal in the O club somewhere and a hasty discharge and we'd never hear from her again. Looks like her 15 minutes get a second chance.....