The CSMRsoldier.com website is beginning this new column as a regular feature to provide more “news you can use” for Soldiers about military law and related legal matters. The authors are JAG officers who are attorneys.
By Capt. (CA) Alan Messarra
What is a JAG? The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, also known as JAG or JAG Corps, refers to the legal branch of the military. A JAG is a military lawyer who serves in the JAG Corps.
In 1775, after becoming supreme commander of the Continental Army, George Washington founded the U.S. Army JAG Corps. In 1802, the JAG Corps was abolished and JAG legal functions were assumed by the state militias. Nearly 50 years later, in 1849, Congress reestablished the JAG Corps.
In 1850, the California legislature established the California Militia, which evolved into the modern California Military Department, of which the California State Military Reserve is the state defense force. Each member of the CSMR is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the JAG Corps is an indispensible component to the administration of military justice.
The California JAG Corps consists of civilian lawyers who are members in good standing of the State Bar of California. Because of their profession, these lawyers are commissioned officers in the CSMR. The JAG Corps is the in-house law firm of the CSMR. Its primary function is to provide expert legal advice to commanders. In addition, JAG lawyers provide legal advice on various issues affecting individual service members in their civilian life. Also, JAG lawyers are assigned to prosecute and defend Soldiers in courts-martial and, in some instances, represent Soldiers in civilian courts.
The lawyers who serve in the JAG Corps are seasoned practitioners with diverse legal expertise. The general law has become more complex in recent years, which has resulted in most lawyers limiting their practice to specific areas of law. There are those, for example, who are involved in corporate or commercial real property transactions and litigation. Others have limited their practice to family law or wills and trusts. In addition, there are prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys.
Military law has become equally complex. Domestic Operational law raises significant legal challenges that face commanders today. A diverse and specialized JAG force has become indispensible to meet the legal needs of individuals and commanders. When faced with a legal issue, do not hesitate to ask a JAG for advice.
Capt. Alan Messarra is an attorney licensed to practice law in California. He is a criminal defense attorney and practices in Los Angeles County.