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The University of Kentucky welcomed Order of the Coif Distinguished Visitor Eugene R. Fidell, of Yale Law School, for a lecture on military justice and its reform on Thursday, February 4. Fidell previously served as president of the National Institute of Military Justice and is currently well-known for representing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Fidell addressed UK law students in a noon forum on the topic: “To What Extent Can the Constitution Be Amended?”

Christina Johnson, a third-year law student and immediate past-president of the UK Law Students Veterans Organization, attended the forum. Johnson said she thinks it’s great to bring in visitors such as Professor Fidell because it exposes students to military and international issues surrounding them.  “Military law is not as up to date as the civilian side which is apparent by the lower number or jurors required to sentence someone,” she noted.

“I personally thought it was interesting to hear about how crimes committed by military members overseas and stateside affect the local/native community and how they may want justice served on their terms in addition to the JAG Corps' punishment,” Johnson said. “It has become customary to let the JAG Corps take over as far as punishment, but in each case they are both independent sovereigns who could both punish the crime.”

Professor Fidell also answered several questions from the audience after the forum, including one from Johnson on the topics of DNA evidence and the JAG Corps having jurisdiction over retired military members. In response, Fidell mentioned that there are rare circumstances when the JAG Corps can still have jurisdiction over a retired military member since they are receiving the military retirement benefits. He proceeded to give an example of when jurisdiction was revived against a retired military member for murder. 

In addition, Professor Fidell also gave an evening lecture on “Military Justice and Its Reform.”

“Military justice is important because you can’t really have a functional armed force without discipline, and you can’t really be certain that discipline and good order unless you have workable sanctions [sic],” Fidell said. “You can’t have a military workforce in a non-conscription environment (an environment that relies on volunteers) without people being confident in the administration of justice. People won’t sign up. They won’t let their children sign up. They won’t let their loved ones sign up. And those that do sign up, will leave at the first opportunity.”

The public lecture was moderated by Dr. Robert Farley of the UK Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

Professor Eugene Fidell graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 and served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1969 – 1972 as a judge advocate and continues to be actively involved in military matters. He has also taught at Harvard Law School and the American University Washington College of Law.

We were honored to have hosted Fidell here at UK College of Law.