This December will be the third anniversary of our coverage of the continuing saga of civilian defense counsel Earle Partington, who was subjected to professional discipline by the Judge Advocate General of the Navy and then sued the JAG in federal court over that action (see all of our Partington coverage at this link; or read just this post for a background of the case).
But Mr. Partington now has company in his fight against the military justice system’s professional responsibility process. An Army judge advocate named Colonel Spelman, who pleaded guilty to adultery at a general court-martial last year (we mentioned the case in this post), was notified that the Army JAG intended to withdraw his 27(b) certification, indefinitely suspend him from practice under the JAG and before Army courts-martial, and notify his state licensing authorities of all that. In response, Colonel Spelman filed suit against the JAG in United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “D.C. Circuit”), alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
In an opinion dated November 2, 2013 (available here), District Judge Leon denied Colonel Spelman’s request for a PI and TRO.
Judge Leon’s opinion has the following interesting analysis:
Here, plaintiff alleges that he will be irreparably harmed by defendant’s imposition of professional discipline and subsequent notification of his court-martial conviction to his respective bar licensing authorities. According to plaintiff, if this Court does not issue preliminary injunctive relief, “[he] will be confronted with a situation in which the defendant has taken action without authorization, yet the plaintiff will [sic] no recourse, either with the Army, with his state and federal bar disciplinary authorities, or with respect to his reputation in his community and with his clients.” See PI Mot. at 16. I disagree.
Plaintiff’s allegations as to irreparable harm are not persuasive. First, preliminary injunctive relief cannot prevent TJAG from withdrawing plaintiffs certification under UCMJ Article 27(b) and indefinitely suspending him from practicing before Army Courts or under TJAG. Clearly, TJAG has that authority. Indeed, that disciplinary action was effectively taken by TJAG prior to the TRO hearing on August 26,2013, leaving as the only remaining issue TJAG’s notification of plaintiff’s bar licensing authorities. Plaintiff understandably fears that such notification could lead to reciprocal sanctions by his bar licensing authorities as well as possible reputational injury. See Pl.’s Reply [Dkt. # 13] at 9-11. This fear alone, however, is not enough to warrant such extraordinary relief, especially where plaintiff has not offered any evidence to substantiate his claim that such harm will likely occur. See Comm. in Solidarity with People of El Sal. (CISPES) v. Sessions, 929 F.2d 742,745-46 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (declining to issue injunctive relief “to prevent injuries neither extant nor presently threatened, but only merely feared”). Indeed, plaintiff acknowledged that he had already notified his bar licensing authorities and clients in 2012 of his general court-martial conviction, Compl. para. 43, and none of the authorities in the three states where plaintiff is licensed have taken any action, to date,
against him, Compl. para. 97. Moreover, as to possible reputational damage within his community, plaintiff has offered no evidence that such harm has either occurred or would likely be irreparable in nature. See Sampson v. Murray, 415 U.S. 61, 91 (1974); Deaver v. Seymour, 822 F.2d 66,69 (D.C. Cir. 1987).
Having failed to establish that irreparable injury would likely result from a denial of plaintiff s motion, the Court need not reach the other factors necessary to warrant preliminary injunctive relief. See CityFed Fin. Corp. v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738,747 (D.C. Cir. 1995).
We’ll keep an eye on this case.