By Gregory N. Hoole
While serving as a Navy judge advocate in Washington, D.C., I was assigned to represent a senior officer who had made some mistakes and was facing a court-martial. In the Navy, prosecutorial power and discretion are vested solely in one’s commanding officer. In this case, my client’s commanding officer was the Commandant, Naval District Washington himself, an admiral with many years of Navy service and experience.
The evidence against my client was clear-cut and uncontested by my client. This did not leave us with a lot of options for his defense. The best angle I could think of taking was to somehow leverage my client’s stellar career and the fact that his case had garnered the attention of some in Congress. The plan was to try to arrange an audience with the admiral and plead for him to give my client a second chance. This is what is known in technical parlance as the “please, pretty please” defense.
Working with the Commandant’s staff judge advocate, I was able to arrange for an audience. The appointed day and time arrived, and I was shown into a spacious office on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard, situated just blocks from the Capitol building. The admiral listened patiently as I stood before him, pleading my client’s case. When I finished, the admiral looked at me and declared, “Lieutenant, I’m from Missouri. Do you know what that means?” I stood there in my Navy whites thinking, “You’re from Missouri? Am I supposed to know what that means?” Then, I began to sweat. Finally, I confessed, “No, sir, I don’t know what that means.”
The admiral explained: “Missouri is the ‘Show Me’ state.” “Talk is cheap,” he said, “I want to see action.” He went on to say that I had convinced him to stay the court-martial temporarily, but only my client’s conduct over the next several months would determine whether the charges against him would ultimately be dropped.
The admiral’s demand to “show me” has application to the twin responsibilities every attorney has not just to our profession but to our country: to advance the cause of truth and civility. This article will take each of these responsibilities in turn. The article will then be continued to the next issue of the Utah Bar Journal, where it will conclude with offering some practical suggestions from the members of the Utah Supreme Court on how we can better foster civility and therefore the cause of truth as attorneys and, more broadly, as fellow citizens.
The Cause of Truth
On January 6, 2021, we all witnessed a spectacle that most of us would never have believed could happen in the United States of America. Hundreds of rioters and insurrectionists, some armed with pipes, shields, body armor, plastic ties or “flex cuffs” (commonly used to handcuff large numbers of people), and other weapons, stormed the U.S. Capitol in pursuit of lawmakers in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying a presidential election.
Shortly before having to be whisked out of the Senate chamber by Capitol police for his own safety, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, stood on the Senate floor to talk about truth. “Self-government,” Mr. McConnell proclaimed, “requires a shared commitment to the truth.” 167 Cong. rec. S14 (daily ed. Jan. 6, 2021) (statement of Sen. McConnell). He continued: “We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities with nothing in common except hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.” Id.
Just two days before, Governor Spencer Cox used the occasion of his inaugural address also to talk about truth: “[A]t a time when we have more knowledge at our fingertips than any...