Bar News - November 9, 2007
A Lawyer’s Life: Diversity, Responsibility, Excitement as Navy JAG
By: Craig Sander
When Warner native Linda “Lindy” Bunn stood before a crowd of federal practitioners at the NHBA*CLE department’s 5th Federal Practice Institute extolling the virtues of a career in military justice, her small stature belied the qualities heard in her precise and powerful voice. It’s the voice of experience; a requirement when you command a Navy legal service office with members from Virginia to New England, across the seven seas, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and on ships in the Persian Gulf, Africa, and South America.
Captain—the Navy equivalent of Colonel—Bunn, Commander of the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic Legal Service Office, calls New Hampshire home, but works out of Norfolk, Virginia, where she has been since chosen by the Judge Advocate General and the Commander of the Naval Legal Service Command to lead the Navy’s largest legal service office. It is a job that includes oversight of prosecutors and staff judge advocates for all posts from Virginia to the northeast.
“It’s a matter of good fortune when the Admirals select you to lead the largest office that includes the Navy’s largest installation [in Norfolk, VA],” she said. “It’s a tremendous honor, privilege and responsibility to me. It’s inspiring.”
The young judge advocates under her command work in virtually every region of the globe, including war zones, and work in virtually every practice area, from trying courts martial and criminal cases to practice in civil cases and environmental law, all of which Bunn herself has practiced at some time in her naval career.
Bunn, a graduate of Franklin Pierce Law School, joined the Navy intending to gain experience in the various types of law offered to JAG attorneys. She didn’t see herself beginning a career that would sustain her for the following 19 years.
“I thought three years of service would be perfect,” she said, laughing. “But one night I sat in a jeep driving in Saudi Arabia looking for an Army doctor to testify in a case involving post-traumatic stress disorder. I decided, this is just too motivating and fun to give up too quickly.”
Bunn joined the Navy in 1988 after earning her law degree and was sent to complete a one-year education at the Naval Justice School – an academy designed to train lawyers, paralegals, and non-lawyer leaders in military law – in Newport, RI.
In 1990, at a time when the defense and prosecution were under the same command, she reported to the Naval Legal Service Office in Jacksonville, Fla., where she had the opportunity to serve as defense counsel for some cases, and prosecution for others. It is an opportunity that she appreciates.
“Today, we have counsel in separate commands to avoid any appearance issues associated with a defense lawyer and a prosecutor working for the same supervisor,” she said. “But I was fortunate to have had the chance to handle some serious cases as defense counsel and others as prosecution.”
That balance prepared her for her return to the Naval Justice School in Newport, where she stood on the other side of the classroom, teaching the fundamentals of administrative and civil military law to young professionals. During her teaching stint, she was fortunate enough to work with the Defense Institute of International Studies – a program run by the United States’ Defense and State Departments, designed to work with and assist developing democracies around the world.
“I worked in Cambodia and Latvia with delegations that traveled there. We opened dialogues on a variety of democratic ideals and constitutional safeguards that the United States has developed,” she said. Bunn’s discussions included addressing the role of a standing, civilian-led military in a democracy. “We talked about the role of the military in domestic matters, human rights, and law enforcement. The military should be used to protect and defend the will of the elected majority to ensure democracy.”
By the time she left her post with the Naval Justice School, she was in too deep to walk away from the military as she had planned. Instead, she continued to gain experience, and rank, while working in a wide array of legal communities within the Navy.
She spent time lending litigation support to the US Attorney’s office and to the Department of Justice on a variety of constitutional torts and FOIA/Privacy Act issues brought forward by former military personnel. She worked as environmental counsel in the southeastern US and Puerto Rico, helping to ensure the Navy complied with local, state, and federal environmental planning and regulations. She even found time to earn her Master’s in Law degree from the University of Virginia. In September 2007 she was promoted to her current position in Norfolk, Virginia, and the 45-year-old Captain isn’t yet ready to give it up.
“I will be in here for two years. A lot can happen in two years. I have no idea where I will go next; there are opportunities involving more leadership positions, positions as judges,” she said. “Right now I enjoy the privilege of leading talented young lawyers and Legalmen [a naval rank classification, similar to a paralegal].”
Though Bunn achieves satisfaction from watching the young attorneys work their way through the military’s legal system and travel the world as she did years before, she claims that her real home is still here in New Hampshire. Fortunately, she said, as a member of the military, she can maintain her status as a New Hampshire resident wherever she goes.
“I was born and raised in Warner and it’s still home. Being in the military I get to keep my “Live free or die” license plate wherever I live,” she said.
Nineteen years after joining, and 17 after planning to leave, Bunn continues to believe that the experiences she’s had in the Navy are just what the recruiters promise and more: “You have an opportunity to try things but not be set in it for life – the simple variety of opportunities is tremendous. You always have an enormous support network, which tracks back to a group of real ‘experts’ for almost any topics that we handle,” she said. “I think most of us feel that military lawyers are by simple reality given enormous responsibility very early – and we love it. And while giving to public service, you work closely with lawyers and non-lawyers with interesting life experiences, positive attitudes, demographic and experiential diversity and engaging personalities.”
Editor’s Note: Captain Bunn extends an open invitation to any New Hampshire Bar member traveling to Virginia to give a tour of what she calls “the greatest Navy base in the world.”