Monday, December 14, 2009

Giving our troops better treatment - by Judge Jim Gray

We are blessed in Orange County to have several wonderful and well-known institutions of higher learning. But one of them that is less known is increasingly achieving greatness in so many respects. And that is Chapman University!

Frankly, my first real contact with Chapman was negative, and it happened more than 20 years ago.

I was the judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by a former female physical education professor for wrongful termination, which resulted in both general and punitive damages being awarded by the jury against both Chapman and its then president.

In a motion for new trial, the attorney asked if I would allow Chapman’s new president, James Doti, to address the court, and, although this was a bit unusual, I agreed. What a man, and what a presentation! From this it was apparent to me that Chapman not only would develop into a university of high integrity but also one of accomplishment and prestige. And I was right.

Doti’s presentation did not have any effect upon that case, because we were bound by what had already happened, instead of promises about the future. But I knew then that under this incoming president’s tutelage, Chapman was going to become a gem.

And now it is. Not only is the undergraduate school becoming a nationwide leader in education, but the graduate schools of law, business, music, film and many more are leading the way in excellence.

In fact, Chapman law alumni passed the most recent California Bar Examination at an 81% rate, which puts them in the company of some of the state’s better law schools.

In addition, my physical therapist wife tells me that she always seeks to hire Chapman graduates for her clinic, because they are consistently well trained in the theory and in the practical aspects.

But it does not stop just with teaching.

Under Doti’s direction, Chapman has made a concerted effort to be involved in and give back to the community in general.

One of the examples of that is the Military Personnel Law Center (MPLC) & AMVETS Legal Clinic, which began this January at the Chapman Law School under the direction of Dean John Eastman.

This first of its kind program provides legal representation for active duty military families and veterans in all types of civil legal disputes, with a particular emphasis upon problems encountered by combat wounded troops.

Why is this necessary? Because the military JAG lawyers are not allowed to represent the troops or their dependents in nonmilitary civil matters.

So, previously, if military reservists had problems getting out of their leases when they were called up to active duty, or service members were having trouble with car dealerships or deferring student loans because they had been deployed overseas, or wounded service members were denied disability benefits, they would have nowhere to turn for legal assistance.

But now they get that assistance from Chapman’s MPLC.

There is a whole body of law that is designed to help service members in all of these situations, but many of the troops, and even the private attorneys who try to help them, are not aware of the rights they have in this specialty area of the law.

Some of these cases are referred by the MPLC staff to private attorneys who volunteer to help in this good cause, and who receive instruction and guidance from the law faculty.

But other cases are handled by second- and third-year law students under the supervision of faculty members at the law school. Of course, this also has the side benefit of providing lots of practical and valuable hands-on legal experience to the students.

Fortunately, Chapman is uniquely suited to provide that assistance, because it has partnered in this program with Brandman University, which is Chapman’s extension university for adults, and Brandman has 25 campuses around California, many of which are on or near military bases.

In addition, Chapman has another university affiliate on the program, which happens to be the UC Berkeley, and it is close to forming similar ties with two more top notch universities in the San Diego area.

Much of the MPLC program was facilitated by a generous commitment grant of $2.5 million over the next five years from AMVETS of California, which is a nonprofit veterans’ support group. But knowing Chapman, even without this generous boost, it would have still found a way to bring this program into being.

One of our national embarrassments is the way we have ignored the needs of our returning military personnel over the years, particularly those who are physically and mentally disabled.

Today, when they are first wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, the medical attention our troops receive from the military community is so wonderful that it will bring tears to your eyes.

But once the troops are stabilized and eventually discharged, the Veteran’s Administration is simply not funded well enough to handle their remaining needs.

Until that situation changes, I thought you would be proud to hear that many of the legal needs of these GIs, both active duty and those who have been discharged, are being addressed and met by the wonderful people at Chapman University.

So join me in extending our thanks and appreciation to Chapman for its service to our troops and their families!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at .


Norman Lepoff, M.D. retired said...

Thank you for this information. I did not know about Chapman University. We surely need to give our trrops better treatment.

Thanks again, Judge Gray. I like you blog posts. They are informative and inspirational.

Norman Lepoff, M.D. retired said...

This is an excellent and informative article. Thank you, Judge Gray, for caring about our troops. I do as well.