Who You Gonna Call? No Constitutional Lawyer Has Won a Single Case Keeping Soldiers from Being Redeployed to Iraq. but a Couple of Manhattan Lawyers, Whose Other Clients Have Included John Gotti and Joe Columbo, Are Batting Five for Five

By McKelvey, Tara | The American Prospect, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Who You Gonna Call? No Constitutional Lawyer Has Won a Single Case Keeping Soldiers from Being Redeployed to Iraq. but a Couple of Manhattan Lawyers, Whose Other Clients Have Included John Gotti and Joe Columbo, Are Batting Five for Five


McKelvey, Tara, The American Prospect


STUART P. SLOTNICK DOES NOT LOOK LIKE A REBELLIOUS lawyer. Photos of him alongside prominent Republicans including Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomi berg decorate his office on the 35th floor of One Chase Manhattan Plaza, and a World War II-era "Pledge of Allegiance" poster hangs behind his desk. He dresses in a crisp white shirt with bling-gold, lion's head cufflinks, and, as he says on a recent Friday morning, "I enjoy wearing an American flag on my lapel." Meanwhile, his father, Barry Slotnick, an attorney who works down the hall at the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, is known for representing mobster clients such as John Gotti and Joe Colombo. The elder Slotnick sauntered into the lobby that Friday morning with his signature alligator briefcase in tow.

Yet despite the trappings of lawyerly success and conservative politics, the Slotnicks have a radical streak: They are in the vanguard of a legal movement on behalf of soldiers and officers who resist the call of duty after they have been ordered to deploy under "stop-loss" policies. These policies cover tens of thousands of soldiers and have become increasingly controversial as troops are being called up for second and third tours of duty in Iraq. So far, says a U.S. Army spokeswoman, 34,138 soldiers on active duty have been affected by stop-loss policies since December 2003.

The Slotnicks' 2004 case on behalf of one of these soldiers, Army Captain Jay Ferriola, broke legal ground. A federal judge acknowledged jurisdiction over Ferriola's claims and held an emergency hearing. As a result, Ferriola did not have to deploy to Iraq, making him the first soldier to challenge successfully the legality of a stop-loss order. He was eventually granted an honorable discharge from the Army, and the Slotnieks (especially Stuart, who has taken the lead) have been busy ever since.

A framed July 29, 2005, New York Law Journal article on Stuart Slotnick's office wall explains why: "Battling the Pentagon Becomes a 'Sub-specialty.'" Slotnick has filed lawsuits on behalf of five Army soldiers and officers over the past three years in federal actions against the U.S. Army. And in all five cases, the government capitulated, negotiated, and avoided trial; all of Slotnick's clients received honorable discharges. "We've sued the Army five times," he says. "And we've won five times."

Slotnick has succeeded where lawyers from progressive organizations such as the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the San Francisco-based Military Law Task Force--both of which have roots in late-1960s civil-rights activism and have also litigated on behalf of soldiers--have not. But part of the reason for these successes is that Slotnick's goals are modest: His are victories on behalf of beleaguered military men; they do not constitute a challenge to the system as a whole. "We haven't challenged stop-loss," he explains. "That really isn't the big issue." Instead of changing the system, he and his father--like a veteran mob lawyer, you might say--are gaming it. Their legal argument is based on a question of individual rights and the Fifth Amendment. "The Army was denying our clients due process--the right to be free," he explains. "Ultimately, I think the strategy was the military didn't have a legal basis for keeping [Ferriola] in. We did a writ of habeas corpus and said they weren't providing him with due process and were unlawfully exercising control of him."

Part of gaming the system here means choosing clients who have a good chance of winning. Stuart Slotnick says he accepts only cases in which soldiers have fulfilled their "military service obligation," an eight-year period of duty--in other words, he says, cases in which "the Army is overreaching." He is less interested in soldiers who are raising messy ethical disputes over the Iraq War or who claim to be conscientious objectors.

Slotnick, a 1994 New York University School of Law graduate who says he once considered joining the Army as a Judge Advocate General lawyer, sounds anything but cynical.

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