U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, charged with the most serious leak of classified documents in the nation’s history, has put his fate in the hands of a judge who, in the words of a close colleague, has "done it all."
Manning, accused of sending roughly 700,000 classified documents, including some Iraq and Afghanistan battle reports, to WikiLeaks, chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge, instead of a jury. And the judge who drew the assignment and opened the military trial on June 3 was Colonel Denise Lind.
"No one in the JAG Corps is worried about how that case is going to play out," said retired Army Colonel Lisa Schenck, who served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for more than 25 years. "I can think of no better judge able to handle those kind of issues, and there are many, many issues, that will come before her."
Schenck, associate dean for academic affairs at the George Washington University School of Law, met Lind in 1999 when they worked together for a year. "We maintained contact," she said, adding that the Army JAG Corps is small.
Lind, she said, hails from upstate New York, is an "avid athlete," a committed runner and a skier. Her husband retired as a colonel in the Army JAG Corps.
Currently chief judge, First Judicial Circuit, U.S. Army Trial Judiciary, Lind has served in the Army JAG Corps for 25 years. She spent four of those years as a military judge in Europe, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Washington. She earned her law degree from Albany Law School in 1985; an M.S. from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces; an LL.M. from the Army Judge Advocate’s General School; and an LL.M. (criminal law) with highest honors from George Washington University Law School in 1999.
Lind’s connection with George Washington University Law School did not end with her degree. She is an adjunct professor there. Even with the heavy duty of overseeing the Manning court-martial, she is co-teaching a summer session course on the craft of judging.
The school’s students can intern with judges but to get credit for the internship, they are required to take a classroom course. Lind’s course offers them the necessary credit, according to interim dean Gregory Maggs. The dean himself is an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, and for the last six years has been assigned as a judge on the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Lind is scheduled to become a judge on that appellate bench when the Manning trial ends, according to Schenck.
"She is like a criminal law guru," Schenck said. "For fun, she reads criminal law. It’s no surprise they’re asking her to go the appellate bench."
And Lind is no stranger to controversial military trials. She was the judge in the court-martial of Lieutenant Colonel Terry Lakin, a doctor who refused deployment to Afghanistan because he questioned whether President Obama had been born in the United States. Various "birthers" furiously labeled her a "coward" and other derogatory descriptions on their blogs because of her rulings in that case. Lakin was dismissed from the Army and sentenced to six months in prison for refusing to obey orders.
When Lind does get to the appellate court, she will bring not only experience as a trial judge, but broad experience from both sides of the aisle. She has been a supervisory defense counsel, a senior prosecutor and a special assistant U.S. attorney. And she has worked the civil law side as well, serving as a chief, civil law division, VII Corps, during the First Gulf War in 1991; and chief, civil law division, senior trial counsel, VII Corps, in Stuttgart, Germany.
"She is very poised, intense, methodical—a super, super-smart criminal lawyer," Schenck said. "She wouldn’t answer anything off the top of her head without researching the issue. The students really like her too."
In the March 2000 issue of the Military Law Review, Lind published an article entitled, “Media Rights of Access to Proceedings, Information and Participants in Military Criminal Cases.”
In her conclusion at that time, she wrote, "The current Rules for Courts-Martial governing access to Article 32 investigations and courts-martial proceedings provide standards for closure that violate the media First Amendment right of access." And she suggested language to amend the rules to incorporate the "compelling interest/individualized findings/narrowly tailored means test to justify closing proceedings or sealing records to which the First Amendment right of access attaches."
In the Manning trial, the government and the judge have rejected media requests for official transcripts of the proceedings. The trial is expected to run all summer long with portions of it closed to the public.
Marcia Coyle can be contacted at email@example.com.