The defense team of Lamar S. Owens Jr., the former quarterback who was convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer for having sex with a female classmate in the Naval Academy dormitory, vowed yesterday to fight his expulsion and the requirement that he repay more than $90,000 in education costs.
In a written statement, Reid Weingarten, Owens' civilian defense attorney, said he was "extremely disappointed" with Navy Secretary Donald Winter's decision because the Savannah, Ga., native was acquitted in July of rape.
"Most basically, the ruling is profoundly unfair. Lamar's four years of hard work and energy have been nullified because of about two minutes of poor judgment that was immediately corrected. We will continue to seek justice in this case."
He called attention to a "hideous double standard" in the case, noting that Owens' accuser and her friends were immunized from any discipline in exchange for their testimony in his court-martial last year, despite being "serial violators of academy rules."
During the trial, Owens said he had consensual sex with the female Mid in her bed on Jan. 29, 2006, after they had both been out drinking with friends. She said he raped her.
A five-member jury found him guilty of misconduct and disobeying an order, felonies in military law.
Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, recommended in February that Owens be expelled for "unsatisfactory conduct," pointing to the convictions, combined with the alleged existence of pornography on Owens' computer, demerits accumulated at the academy and a poor "military aptitude" score during his final semester. He also recommended that Owens be freed of his obligation to repay the government for his $136,000 education.
Several of Owens' supporters said they were "surprised" by the Navy secretary's decision and planned to regroup and evaluate what options are available for reversing the decision.
Charlotte Cluverius, a former military lawyer and academy instructor who now works in private practice in Washington, said they will likely have to decide between two viable options: asking a Navy board to correct his service record, which could result in his reinstatement, or suing the military.
Both are rare for midshipmen, she said, but have met with success on occasion.
"It's almost impossible to make a sweeping assessment of his chances because every case is so very different," she said. "If there are identified errors made by the Navy or the Naval Academy, and Lamar Owens' team is able to put those forth in a powerful way, he has a chance. But it really depends on what the issues are that underlie all of this."
The Board for Correction of Naval Records usually handles much smaller cases, such as when there's an error in a sailor's record, but occasionally it hears cases where someone is removed from duty "in some erroneous or illegal fashion, and [it] can order that person to be put back into the military and receive all their back pay," Cluverius said.
Lawsuits have a similar burden and are usually based on the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires government agencies to follow their own regulations. If Owens' lawyers find that that didn't happen, or if it was "fundamentally unfair, arbitrary or capricious, they can initiate an entire litigation process that usually lasts a few years."
Cluverius said the Navy secretary's decision to force Owens to repay the government "was very unusual." In most cases, the Navy secretary signs off on the academy head's wishes.
"It's just outrageous," she said.