WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a court-martial for a Naval Academy professor accused of making sexually explicit comments to a female midshipman, a military judge said yesterday that the school's superintendent had not "overstepped his bounds" by making public statements about the zero-tolerance policy.
Charles Gittins, the civilian attorney for Navy Lt. Bryan Black, unsuccessfully argued that Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt is creating a witch hunt atmosphere at the Annapolis military college, and that his public statements and e-mails sent to academy staff about harassment have tainted the jury pool.
Col. Steven Day, a Marine Corps trial judge, denied Gittins' request that Rempt testify and said his statements "reflect Navy policy." Day also said the case of former Navy quarterback Lamar Owens proved that jurors can independently rule on a case, since Owens was acquitted last month of rape.
Black's trial will begin Aug. 22 unless it is delayed while the Navy pulls a witness from his deployment in the Pacific.
According to investigative documents, Black made a reference to male arousal to describe his admiration for battleships during a training cruise to Norfolk, Va., last summer. He then reportedly asked a female midshipman if the ships had a similar effect on her, referring to her breasts. He also used several expletives to describe his ex-wife and made other vulgar comments, according to the documents.
This summer, defense attorneys for Owens and another former football player accused of sexual misconduct have successfully challenged some aspects of Rempt's fight to stamp out sexual assault and harassment at the 161-year-old institution.
Attorneys for Owens objected to e-mails sent to all academy personnel that named the former football star, said he was being charged with rape and referred to his accuser as "victim" instead of "alleged victim."
A Navy judge in the case said before the trial that the e-mails "insinuate guilt."
A defense attorney for Kenny Ray Morrison, a senior and former Navy linebacker accused of sexual misconduct during a rowdy party at a Washington hotel, took umbrage with a training video about sexual assault shown to academy personnel.
In both cases, the military judges granted the defense teams more leeway in striking jurors.
Morrison's trial is scheduled for Sept. 26.
While none of the cases has been removed from Rempt's command, the added leeway in striking jurors could give the defense an advantage going into the trial.
In Owens' case, defense attorneys whittled the pool down to five, which made it more difficult to convict Owens of rape. That would have required a two-thirds vote, according to military law, but with five jurors, four were needed for a conviction, a higher standard.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.