More than 100 of the 133 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen implicated in a cheating scandal involving an electrical engineering exam have cases serious enough to merit a full review by a panel of officers with the authority to expel them, sources said.
The five-member panel, headed by Rear Adm. Richard C. Allen, was scheduled to begin receiving case files yesterday. Meanwhile, academy officials were scheduled to start notifying accused midshipmen individually.
The cases surrounding roughly 80 percent of those implicated in the scandal, which involved the distribution of advance copies of an exam given in December 1992, will be reviewed by the panel.
Nearly all the remaining midshipmen will face some disciplinary action short of separation or expulsion, sources said.
The decision to send the bulk of the cases to the officer review panel was made by a trio of retired admirals, headed by retired Adm. Leon "Bud" Edney. The men spent the past week and a half working 12-hour days deciding how to handle the cases.
"They don't think guaranteeing [their remaining at the academy] is appropriate" in the majority of the cases, said a Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There's enough here to consider evidence of a serious nature."
The admirals had four options: send a case to the officer review panel, send the case to the commandant of midshipmen for a sanction less than separation, send the case to a military court for action or decide there had been no violation of the academy's honor code and dismiss the case entirely.
Sources familiar with the cases said only one seemed to warrant action by the military court system. About three had no violations.
Midshipmen whose cases were sent to the commandant for sanctions can instead opt for the officer review panel, Navy officials said.
The review panel was recommended last week by the academy's superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, as a substitute for the midshipmen honor boards, which usually handle violations of the honor concept.
The honor concept states that midshipmen do not "lie, cheat or steal." But a report by the Navy's inspector general last week found many midshipmen lacked faith in the honor boards. To ensure fairness, Admiral Lynch received approval from top Navy officials to create the panel.
Besides Admiral Allen, the panel includes Navy Capts. Barbara E. McGann, Robert "Woody" Sutton and Lee Womack and Marine Col. William R. "Rusty" Jones.
One source said the panel of officers is expected to wrap up its work within 60 days, although Navy officials stressed that there is no deadline.
The majority of the review panel must rule that a midshipmen committed an honor offense. Charges will be dismissed and no further action taken if the evidence does not support the finding.
The panel has the power to recommend expulsion and forward the case to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, who will make the final decision. It can also decide to forward cases to Naval Academy officials for some type of disciplinary action short of expulsion.
In determining the cases, the panel will consider "extenuating circumstances" presented by testimony or evidence. The panel may review the 22 midshipmen exonerated by midshipmen honor boards last spring, but not on the same charges, according to the panel's rules.
The panel functions as an administrative, not a judicial, body. As a result, strict rules of evidence need not be observed, according to the rules.
The accused midshipman will have an opportunity to testify in his or own behalf, make a written statement or remain silent.
Midshipmen will be allowed to consult with a lawyer before and during the hearing through a recess, although the legal counsel cannot attend the hearing. Military legal counsel will be presented upon request.