Trial Lawyers College Congratulates Joseph Low
by John Joyce, Chicago area Alumni Local Working Groups
from The WARRIOR magazine, alumni newsletter for Trial Lawyers College.
Being a REAL trial lawyer is hard, and increasingly rare. So many in our profession give in to cynicism and despair. The desire to “try and make a difference” gives way to the need to “try and make a living.” But there are a rare few among us who live by the romantic ideals that first inspired me to become a trial lawyer. We MUST honor them and celebrate their triumphs. Our profession needs heroes, now more than ever. Here is the story of some trial lawyer heroes who made a difference for one real-life war hero.
Several members of our tribe recently collaborated to earn a massive victory that will change the military justice system forever. Haytham Faraj, Phil Stackhouse, Colby Volkey, Greg Westfall, and Joey Low are men I deeply admire. Each of them has touched my life in profound ways. They have quite literally shaped the man and lawyer I am today. When I learned they had formed a dream team to defend several Navy SEALs charged with war crimes, I knew the government didn’t stand a chance.
Sure enough, last week, Friday, August 9, 2019, nearly 2 1/2 years after filing charges, the government tapped out and dismissed all charges against Joey Low’s Navy SEAL client. The charges were combat-related involving Taliban fighters (Joey coined the phrase Talibanner, which he used in court and on the record) who were detained after a I.E.D. was detonated injuring friendly troops. The suspect Talibanners were apprehended by the forces in Afghanistan and the accusations by some of the Army personnel included abuse, torture, and murder of one of the Talibanners.
The case was initially investigated over 7 years ago and the SEALs were cleared of any wrongdoing. However, years later, a New York Times writer claimed that the Navy and the government covered the war crimes up. This type of criticism causes Generals and Admirals to piss their Pentagon-issued diapers because they fear it will stunt their ascension to the next higher rank. As a result, they reissued an investigation and filed felony charges against the SEAL war heroes. Things were looking bleak for the SEALs until the TLC dream team went into action.
Joey said a turning point of the case was when the original Navy judge (who had denied all of Joey’s motions up to this point) was replaced with a new judge. The new judge was a Marine, which is rare in a Navy court-martial. Joey filed a motion to dismiss the case based on misconduct by the command when filing the case. Joey showed evidence that the officers responsible for filing the charges were intimidated by their bosses, and improperly urged to find wrongdoing. Normally these accusations get little traction with a military judge. However, this Marine judge granted Joey the right to a hearing on the issue. And in nearly unprecedented fashion, he added, “Mr. Low, I will also grant your request to call to the witness stand several U.S. Navy Admirals.”
Joey couldn’t believe this opportunity. High-ranking military officers are very rarely ordered to take the stand; it’s nearly as rare as getting the President to testify. He could already envision himself roasting Admirals. He could see them squirming in their fancy, shiny, pressed uniforms. The judge’s ruling was even sweeter because it was granted over the exasperated and repeated objections of the THREE prosecutors the government sent to challenge Joey.
The day Joey laced up his boots to put a jurisprudential stomping to these Admirals was one of the best days of his life. Joey started out as a lowly enlisted Marine. Back then, he would have been scolded for merely looking one of these men in the eyes. Yes, sir! No, sir! Aye, aye, sir! If he said anything else, he might wind up the defendant in his own court-martial!
Now, he had the chance to turn the tables. Joey was probably the first person to challenge any of these men in years. And he savored the experience. He made them answer the questions they didn’t want to answer. He made them look angry. He made them look foolish. He managed to crack through the polished veneer these men had been cultivating since theirs early days in the Naval Academy. The Senior Regional Defense Counsel (the top military defender on the West Coast) said Joey’s job on those Admirals was the best cross-examination he’s ever seen.
Joey’s motion to get the case dismissed was ultimately denied, but after the government saw how he handled their most experienced witnesses, they had enough. They tapped out and called it quits, dismissing all the charges.
Joey, along with the rest of the dream team that helped him win his case, are among the last of the REAL trial lawyers left in America. These men are inspired by passion, not mere greed. (It’s worth noting that just weeks before this case was dismissed, Joey represented one of the key witnesses in the Gallagher murder trial in court, completely pro bono. He did it because he couldn’t let the government bully a war hero into lying against his battle buddy in court.)
When I was a young law student, my vision of what a REAL trial lawyer should be was based on the values I learned in the Marine Corps. Our anthem brags that “we have fought in every clime and place.” Marines meet the enemy in any forum on any day and we prevail. This is how Joey practices law. He practices civil and criminal law at the highest level. He is at home in state and federal courts all throughout the country, and military courts all throughout the world. The man even has a U.S. Supreme Court opinion recognizing his unique talent as a trial lawyer!
He inspires me, and it’s so important to have inspiration in our profession. This job is hard. It can be very lonely. There are many times I’ve wanted to quit and find an easier way to make a living. But guys like Joey remind me my purpose is to make a difference for my clients. REAL trial lawyers make a difference, not just a living.
Just wanted to share this story because that victory motivated the hell out of me. Hope it motivates you too. Keep up the good fight, warriors.