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January 15, 2002
BACKGROUND The Center for Military Readiness is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) educational organization that specializes in military personnel issues. On April 22, 1996, a lawsuit was filed in the Washington D.C. U.S. District Court against CMR President Elaine Donnelly, the Center for Military Readiness, and the Washington Times. The plaintiff is Lt. Carey Dunai Lohrenz, who was trained to fly the F-14 in the same class as the late Lt. Kara Hultgreen. On October 25, 1994, Lt. Hultgreen died attempting to land on the carrier Abraham Lincoln. With the help of Susan Barnes, a Denver-based feminist attorney and close associate of former Rep. Patricia Schroeder, Plaintiff Lohrenz is accusing Elaine Donnelly of libel/defamation, and is blaming CMR for her inability to succeed in carrier aviation: The case was filed in Washington D.C. and assigned to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth. At issue is the 1995 CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviation, which included actual training records released as a last resort by one of then-Lt. Lohrenz' instructors, Lt. Patrick J. Burns. The CMR Special Report, which was the subject of news and commentary in the Washington Times and other major newspapers, documented a pattern of special treatment and double standards that may have contributed to the death of Lt. Hultgreen. (On April 19, 1998, CBS 60 Minutes did a segment on the story, which was fair but favorable to Lt. Burns' side of the story.) Attorneys are confident of vindication, because the CMR Special Report was published with due care and without malice. Before publication, author Elaine Donnelly went straight to top authorities, including the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (Sen. Strom Thurmond), the Chief of Naval Operations (Adm. Jeremy Boorda), and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (Adm. Stanley Arthur), asking for their help. Adm. Arthur sent an emissary (Rear Adm. Lyle Bien) to investigate the facts, which Bien found to be "largely accurate." Furthermore, the Plaintiff is a public figure, as defined in libel law. Scores of contemporaneous news reports, going back to 1993, indicate that safety in naval aviation was and is an issue of great public interest and concern. Statements published in the CMR Special Report were true and absolutely protected by the First Amendment. The facts have also been confirmed by several investigations, including the Naval Inspector General's 1997 Report on Carrier Air Wing Eleven. Lohrenz confirmed basic information about her rocky training record in several official documents she had signed herself. In cases such as this, truth is the ultimate defense. PROCEDURAL DELAYS AND NEW DEVELOPMENTS Lohrenz v. Donnelly et al. was on hold for many months, pending resolution of several procedural questions, such as a protective (gag) order that the Plaintiff asked the court to impose on Elaine Donnelly. That petition was denied. Discovery and production of documents began in 1998, but due to unreasonable actions by the Deputy Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy, limited depositions did not begin until the fall of 1999. In a memo addressed to CMR attorneys, Capt. W. L. Ritter, the Deputy JAG, announced that he intends to chill, delay, limit, or flatly forbid testimony from naval officers whose first-hand knowledge and professional expertise are important to Elaine Donnelly's defense. According to the JAG office, such testimony might interfere with the "command responsibilities" of potential witnesses--even though most of the people in question are retired, and the Navy is not even a party to the case. The Deputy JAG is demanding the right to monitor all attorney/witness communications, and to choose expert witnesses of his choice, not ours. In laying down unreasonable restrictions such as this, Capt. Ritter has cited relatively new, unchallenged regulations that relate to privacy considerations or national security matters, such as classified documents or nuclear weapons. Testimony needed for CMR's defense has nothing to do with those concerns. To protect Elaine Donnelly's constitutional rights of due process, under precedents unique to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, it became necessary to file a separate legal action in the court of Judge Royce C. Lamberth. CMR attorneys have also tried to cooperate and negotiate with the Navy in good faith, but obstructionism and threats of reprisal are continuing. ISSUES IN THE CASE · Laws regarding libel and defamation require the Plaintiff to prove "actual malice." That means that attorney Barnes must present credible evidence that Elaine Donnelly and CMR knowingly published false information, with the intent of ruining the career of the Plaintiff. On the contrary, the issue was and still is safety and high standards in naval aviation. (Plaintiff Lohrenz was identified only as "Pilot B" in the CMR Special Report.) Absent credible evidence of actual malice, Barnes has substituted a conspiracy theory. In an affidavit filed in a separate lawsuit against the Navy, Barnes alleged that a "Tailhook Underground" which she described as a "conspiracy" of male aviators headed by Elaine Donnelly, set out to destroy the career of Lohrenz and other female aviators. Never mind that Donnelly has never met or spoken to many of the alleged co-conspirators. The concocted theory worked to portray Lohrenz as a "victim," and ultimately to extract a $150,000 settlement from the Navy. · Lt. Lohrenz washed out not because of CMR, but because a Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB) decided that she lacked the abilities necessary to continue in carrier aviation. FNAEB records show that Lohrenz had repeatedly argued with her instructors, frequently disregarded the guidance of landing signal officers, made excuses for poor performance, and continued hazardous landing techniques that an instructor said had "scared everyone but her." These problems were evident long before publication of the CMR Special Report. TO BE CONTINUED... As of April 2000, deposition interviews are still being limited due to procedural disputes with the Navy. CMR attorneys are working overtime for a rapid solution to this problem. CL010602AA The Center for Military Readiness is being represented by noted constitutional lawyer Kent Masterson Brown, Frank Northam, and Christopher Shaughnessy of the firm Webster, Chamberlain, & Bean in Washington D.C. Tax-deductible contributions to the CMR Legal Defense Fund may be addressed to CMR/LDF, P. O. Box 51600, Livonia, Michigan 48151. For more information, please see additional Summaries and Legal Defense Updates in the Issues section of this website.
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More background information and historic documents on this topic may be available in the 'Essential Resources' section of this website, or in a previous edition of CMR E-Notes, archived here.