In September 2003 a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reaffirmed the Motion for Summary Judgment that had been approved by U. S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in August 2002. The case finally ended on May 17, 2004, when the Supreme Court denied the petition of Plaintiff Carey D. Lohrenzfor a writ of certiorari.
The federal courts dismissed the bogus case for a simple reason: There were no issues of material fact brought by Plaintiff Lohrenz that would have justified a jury trial.
In 1996, then-Lt. Lohrenz, a former F-14 pilot, accused Donnelly and CMR of ruining her career in carrier aviation by publishing a comprehensive report on double standards for women in naval aviation training. The 1995 CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviation was supported by F-14 training squadron records documenting a pattern of unsatisfactory grades earned by Lohrenz and another female pilot, the late Lt. Kara Hultgreen.
The story began in 1994, when an instructor for both Hultgreen and Lohrenz, then-Lt. Patrick J. Burns, discussed his concerns about the competence of the female trainees with local commanders. Lt. Burns and others in the training squadron were told by the squadron’s commanding officer that the women would graduate to the fleet, no matter what. On October 25, 1994, Lt. Hultgreen lost control of her aircraft on approach to a carrier, and crashed into the water.
Glide slope errors that Hultgreen made that day were similar to performance errors she had made twice before. Even Plaintiff Lohrenz admitted under oath that she knew colleagues seeing the videotape of Hultgreen’s crash would recognize that it was caused by pilot error, not engine failure, as initially claimed by the Navy. (A subsequent mishap investigation report confirmed this.)
Shortly after Navy officials tried to mislead the public about the circumstances of Hultgreen’s crash and the training that preceded it, Lt. Burns asked for the assistance of Donnelly and CMR in conveying his concerns about double standards in the women’s training to higher-level officials. His motivation was simple—he did not want to see Lohrenz or any of more of his colleagues die due to compromises in training.
By letter dated January 16, 1995, Donnelly asked Sen. Strom Thurmond, then-Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to investigate whether the statements of her source were true or not. Donnelly also met to discuss the matter once with then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jeremy Boorda, and three times with then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Stanley Arthur. A rear admiral investigating the situation reported that Donnelly’s information was “largely accurate,”and an experienced aviator reviewing Lohrenz’s records told Donnelly that they were the worst he had ever seen.
Having exercised care and diligence, not “reckless disregard of the truth,” as claimed by Plaintiff Lohrenz, Donnelly published the CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviationin April 1995. CMR was the only organization to spotlight this critical issue, in order to save lives.
A subsequent investigation of possible sex discrimination in Air Wing Eleven by the Naval Inspector General found that at the time Lohrenz was removed from carrier aviation by an evaluation board in May 1995, she ranked 113 of 113, and was washed out because of flying techniques that were “unsafe, undisciplined, and unpredictable.” Senior Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) testified that her flawed “high and fast” flying patterns, combined with her tendency to blame others for her own mistakes and to disregard instructions, made Lohrenz an “accident waiting to happen.”
Lohrenz’s rocky F-14 training records, the same ones published by CMR, were among the documents considered by the review board, but she did not take the opportunity to challenge those records. The Air Wing Eleven investigation also revealed that Lohrenz had been on a “watch list” for poor performance as early as January 3, 1995—well before Donnelly’s initial letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Lohrenz claimed had ruined her career.
The training squadron commanding officer told Air Wing Eleven investigators what Donnelly’s source knew first-hand: The Navy was in a “race with the Air Force” to get women into combat aviation after regulations changed in 1993. During the same investigation, a landing signal officer testified that when he evaluated the performance of Hultgreen during carrier qualification trials, he had tried to hold her back for more training, but his judgment was overruled.
This LSO and former instructor, whose voice can be heard on the videotape of Kara Hultgreen’s fatal mishap pleading with her to apply “power, power, power,” told investigators that watching Lt. Hultgreen die while trying to land her F-14 was the worst day of his life. (This testimony did not come to light until CMR obtained an unredacted copy of the Air Wing Eleven Report during the discovery process of Lohrenz v. Donnelly.)
Former Vice CNO Adm. Arthur told CBS reporter Mike Wallace, during a 1998 interview for 60 Minutes, that the Navy had hoped that putting women on aircraft carriers would help its “image problems” in the aftermath of the 1991 Tailhook sex abuse scandal. During his sworn deposition taken on April 28, 2000, Adm. Arthur admitted under cross-examination “in this case we sent people to the fleet not qualified.”
During the litigation CMR attorney Kent Masterson Brown, of Counsel with Webster, Chamberlain & Bean of Washington D.C., presented abundant evidence that Lohrenz was a voluntary limited-purpose public figure, as defined by New York Times v. Sullivanand subsequent precedents. Lohrenz’s own sworn testimony to Navy investigators indicated that when she chose to become a pioneering combat pilot, she knowingly put herself at the center of a long-standing debate that her own attorney had acknowledged in a separate affidavit.
Contrary to contentions made by some uninformed observers, Lohrenz was not falsely maligned by anyone. Elaine Donnelly and CMR, however, were deliberately targeted with a malicious example of “strategic litigation against public participation,” a SLAPP suit, intended to destroy the organization by draining its resources. Due to interference by certain Navy officials, who were providing assistance to Plaintiff Lohrenz’s attorney without notice to CMR over a period of two years, the case was prolonged for 8 ½ years and cost CMR more than $630,000in legal fees alone.
Dismissal of Lohrenz v. Donnellywas a solid victory for the First Amendment, and for the right of private individuals to question the government “party line” when advocating high, uncompromised standards in all forms of military training. This is a matter of life-an-death importance to both women and men in the military, and it was well worth the fight.
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For more information on Lohrenz v. Donnelly & CMR, contact CMR at P. O. Box 51600, Livonia, MI 48151, or view the many articles on this subject posted on www.cmrlink.org, under Issues/CMR Lawsuit.