From The Desk of Judge Jeffie J. Massey
Ladies & Gentlemen:
Just a short note to give you my heartfelt thanks for the warm reception that those of youin attendance gave me in New York at the Annual MOPS Luncheon, and for those of you in the MOPS Legal Network who did not attend, here is a brief summary of my presentation.
I become very passionate when speaking about subjects that are important to me—and there is no subject more important to me than stopping the injustices that are occurring on a daily basis, adversely affecting our nation's mariners and their employers.
After having a chance to speak with a number of you individually, it appears that there was a time when the Suspension & Revocation Program at the Coast Guard was not plagued by the atmosphere that I found myself in the middle of when I became a Coast Guard ALJ in July 2004. Regardless of what caused the shift, it remains the responsibility of every advocate to challenge a system that has developed ingrained bias wherever it is encountered (in a hearing room or on a vessel).
I appreciate the fact that some of my ideas sound a bit extreme to some of you, but please remember that there was a time—not all that long ago—when the idea of affirmatively informing a person being questioned for a crime of his or her right to counsel and right to remain silent was called radical and unnecessary.
As we briefly discussed at the luncheon, the demands made on Coast Guard Personnel and the parameters of their involvement in marine safety, homeland security, the war on drugs, and environmental issues is evolving. While some USCG personnel remain well-intentioned when they are dealing with the public (particularly mariners), others are over-zealous and routinely blur lines that result in the violation of both civil and criminal procedures and regulations. Once these lines are crossed, it is all too easy for the USCG to argue that "policy" demands the lines be crossed on a routine basis. Inherent in this process is the fact that some offending Coast Guard personnel claim they have rights to take actions when, in fact, no such rights exist.
I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the law, believing that "processes" (statutory and otherwise) serve a necessary purpose in a civilized society. However, a constant factor in these "processes" is the individual's right to assert his or her views, and challenge those who abuse or twist the rules in an attempt to unlawfully shift favor to one party over the other. Equally important is a neutral decision-maker who decides the factual and legal issues involved in these challenges.
Twenty years of litigation experience and ten years presiding over hundreds of cases for three different federal agencies has solidified my respect for the law and these "processes." Being caught up in the middle of a scandalized system and being ordered to violate the law when I performed my decision making functions has punctuated the sad truth that justice is a fragile thing. Once an injustice occurs, it requires a vigilant advocate to push the scales of justice back in balance.
I suppose some of you are thinking that I am preaching to the choir. I know that each of you know what a fragile thing justice is—I only want to encourage you to be aware of assaults upon our processes, even in places you might not expect to encounter them.
Please do the honor of calling upon me if I can be of assistance to you or your clients.
Judge Jeffie J. Massey