The Navy was to begin this morning its first disciplinary hearings against 109 senior midshipmen in the U.S. Naval Academy's largest cheating scandal after a federal judge threw out a suit claiming the investigation violated the midshipmen's constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Harris refused yesterday to block the hearings by a panel of five officers, ruling that because the hearings have yet to be held, it is too early to say whether any rights have been violated.
Judge Harris also disagreed with the midshipmen's contention that the Navy violated the law by replacing the midshipmen-run honor boards with the panel of active-duty officers to determine punishment, which could include expulsion.
"We appreciate the court's ruling. We are committed to a full and fair resolution of the cases," said Lt. Cate Mueller, a Navy spokeswoman.
The Navy is expected to hold five hearings a day, six days a week, until they are completed, she said. The hearings, originally scheduled to begin Feb. 11, have been postponed three times because of the suit.
"We've read the judge's order. We're considering our next step," said Charles W. Gittins, the midshipmen's lawyer who called the panel a "jerry-built procedure" designed to "railroad" the midshipmen from the academy.
He said he could appeal the ruling or refile the suit after the officers' panel hearings are completed.
REPORT ON SCANDAL
To receive, by fax, a copy of the Navy inspector general's report on the cheating scandal at the U.S. Naval Academy, dial Sunfax at 410-332-6123. After you hear the greeting, punch in the four-digit code 5050.
It will take approximately 15 minutes to receive this 32-page report.