Greetings, everyone, and welcome to my first report as the Bravo Fleet Judge Advocate General. First, I would like to thank the BFCO for nominating me for this position and Bravo Fleet Command for the confidence that they have shown in me by ratifying my appointment. It is my hope that these reports will be few and far between, as well over two years have passed since the last time charges needed to be filed by this office. That is not a streak I am looking forward to breaking, but I also want to be sure that the Judge Advocate’s office is there for all of our members, both in mediation and in the case a trial is needed. More importantly, however, I think I should introduce myself and outline my approach given the importance of Judge Advocate General position and my lack of high profile visibility of late.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Judge Advocate
Many know me as Slagar, and some of my history was outlined by our Fleet Commander in his news post regarding my appointment. I’ve been around the block a fair bit, holding the positions of TFCO, Operations Officer (back at the point where it was the catch-all for just about everything not related to RP), Chief of Staff, and Executive Officer. While it has always held a special place in my heart, however, outside of two examples where I had to step in on an interim manner to oversee ongoing cases, I have never before held the position of Judge Advocate General. The reason that the Judge Advocate’s office is so important to me is twofold: First, I have seen a version of Bravo Fleet that operates without a robust system of justice and, second, I see it as an excellent tool for helping the membership.
On the first, many people have pointed at the Bravo Fleet Judge Advocate General and mocked it as a bunch of people that think they are actual judges, real lawyers. Make no mistake: though the JAG office uses the trappings of military law in the lore and names of positions (as do the other Bravo Fleet departments), it is not playacting. The justice system’s complexity is there to ensure that the members of the fleet are not subject to the fickle whims of a Bravo Fleet admiralty structure that operates with impunity. The Bravo Fleet Judicial Code is as detailed as it is because it narrowly defines the powers of what Bravo Fleet can do to negatively impact a member. It is a set of necessary handcuffs on both the JAG Office and Bravo Fleet Command that tells the organization, to borrow a phrase from a certain captain of the Enterprise, “this far and no farther” when it comes to their ability to affect members. This is because, as I alluded to above, I have seen a Bravo Fleet that operated without those robust limits on its power over members. When we were first revising the judicial rules of this club almost 15 years ago, one of our first actions was to clear well over 50 members from the lifetime ban list. These people were banned for offenses ranging from “cussing the BFCO” to using altered ship specifications on their games. Many of these people were banned while there was a Bravo Fleet JAG in place. But there were few, if any, set rules and that body most often operated at the direction and instruction of the BFCO. I look at those who point at the Judicial Code and laugh and know that they have never run afoul of unchecked authority wielded against them. The thing many of them miss with simple, “intuitive” rule sets is that they are vague, and vague rules allow a lot of room for interpretation by those tasked with enforcing them. Taking punitive action against a Bravo Fleet Member should be hard, and the process should be spelled out with specificity in order to make it hard.
Second, the Judicial Code and JAG Office is there to help the membership. The Judge Advocate General is tasked with the twin tasks of protecting the rights of our members and enforcing the rules within the Charter. These two tasks walk hand in hand, as violations of the charter often negatively impact our club’s membership and their enjoyment of our organization. Most members will never interact with the Bravo Fleet JAG, and those that do will likely do so under difficult circumstances. Many see the Judge Advocate’s office as a tool to punish members, and, while it can take actions that do just that, I do not see that as its purpose. The goal is to help members be better members, to ensure they do not negatively impact the experience of those around them. There are many tools to help members learn from the mistakes we all make, and punishment is just one of them.
Tools of the Judge Advocate General
Sometimes, the mark of a great JAG is the cases you don’t prosecute. In Section 3 – Process of Adjudication within the Judicial Code the word “mediation” appears seven times. Mediation can be offered by the JAG, BFCO, or a member of the JAG staff. I want to make sure that my staff and I are working to ensure that effective mediation to resolve disputes can be offered in those cases that warrant it. Punishment should not be the sole tool in the JAG office’s tool box, it can and will offer other means of conflict resolution.
With that being said, however, the JAG Office should never be the first stop to resolve an interpersonal conflict. The staff of our members’ Task Forces and the rest of Bravo Fleet Command are all as equally dedicated to the experience of their members as I am. They put me into this position, but do not overlook the work that they can do in order to help you.
Investigation & Charging
With the above commitment I do not want to leave anyone with the expectation that the JAG Office will be looking to push everything to mediation. In some cases it may be warranted, but it is also a place where the process is less enumerated and where undue command influence can rear its ugly head. As such, my staff and I will not shy away from proactively investigating matters that come before us. The staff will be empowered to seek out evidence and ask questions of those that file complaints and anyone else that may have relevant information. Charges will never be our goal in these investigations, instead it will be to understand what the facts of the matter is to make the best decision possible.
At the end of any investigation, I will confer with both the investigator and defender on whether charges should be brought, and if so which. The bar will be high on what constitutes something worthy of charges, as it should be. I will never bring charges where the evidence, on its face, would not convince a reasonable person of their validity. Cases that do not meet this standard should not be brought by this office, as looking for people to punish should not be the goal. That is not to say that those who are charged are guilty, as there can be any host of reasons why apparent violations of our Charter in fact aren’t. The Judicial Code and the processes outlined within exist explicitly because the JAG and BFC are not infallible.
With all that being said, I do want to put emphasis on one thing: Noone in Bravo Fleet should ever threaten to “JAG someone”. The Judge Advocate’s office is not some sort of boogeyman to be used to browbeat other members. Using the unfounded threat of JAG action against other members in order to try to intimidate them into compliance is a serious matter. The JAG Office is empowered to abridge a member’s rights and strip them of their awards or advancement, things that often could have taken them months or years to earn. As such, any attempt to use the threat of JAG action against another member will be treated seriously. I don’t want the JAG to be in a position to bully members, and I do not want to see my office used as a club to bully members by others.
Lastly, I do have a few projects I would like to work on while in office. First, Emily and I were working on some revisions to the Judicial Code. These aim to further streamline the process as well as better protect the rights of members, and I want to see them come to fruition. Additionally, I plan to do my best to help members and their understanding of the Judicial Code. It is true that the judicial process and the office can be about as clear as lead in places. I want to make sure there are avenues for the members to understand the system, as the first attempt should not be when one is facing a complaint or JAG investigation. I hope I will be able to work with the rest of Bravo Fleet Command to reach this goal. Furthering understanding of the process helps not just with those that interact with it, but also to create better accountability for those charged with running it.
Lawyers like to hear themselves talk, even fake ones?
Yes, this did get a bit long. It is my hope that this helps our membership better understand me, as well as the mindset I bring to the position of Judge Advocate General. My philosophy of leadership in online organizations like Bravo Fleet has always been very simple: being a leader is a service position, not one about being in control. JAG may be the epitome of that ideal as it is charged to protect the membership, both from other members as well as the power structures of the fleet as well. I take my responsibilities very seriously, and will do my best to serve the members of the fleet in all things.
And remember, my door is always open.