Lt. Col. Clay Plummer is leading a fight against government investigators who raided defense attorney offices at Camp Pendleton last week in search of a cell phone linked to a case being tried on base.
Plummer, Marine Corps' regional defense counsel for the Western Region, specifically alleges that armed and uniformed officers entered the Defense Service's Organization building and prohibited all occupants from exiting while the raid was in progress.
Plummer also alleges that during the 2 ½ hour raid, investigators searched every attorney's office regardless of a connection (or lack thereof) to the case at issue and continued to search even after the targeted phone was located and seized. While Plummer does not claim that investigators seized anything but the cellphone, he has expressed both concern and outrage that the investigators opened military criminal case files containing confidential and privileged information.
"This is just unacceptable," Plummer asserted. "Just think of the U.S. federal Marshals or FBI raiding a public defender's office – that's what this is the equivalent to. It's crazy."
Marine Corps spokesman Jeffrey Nyhart, on the other hand, maintains that the search was lawful and valid, albeit rare.
Similarly, Camp Pendleton base officials contend that the search was authorized by "an appropriate Commander to secure evidence" in the office as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Officials further insist that an independent, neutral judge has been appointed
"to review evidence seized during the course and conduct of the search itself in order to identify whether any potentially privileged material was improperly disclosed."
Nonetheless, Plummer, unsatisfied by the officials' claims, has announced that defense attorneys are contacting clients to inform them that their confidential case files were likely compromised. These files relate to cases ranging from violations as minor as unauthorized absence to crimes as major as murder. The most high-profile potentially comprised case file is that of Lawrence Hutchins III, a Marine sergeant being retried on charges of murder and obstruction of justice relating to Iraq war crimes.
Taking swift steps to further mitigate damages, Plummer has announced plans to file motions with the court against the action.
"Our intent is we are going to fight this behavior through litigation in our courts with the hope our courts can do something so this never happens again," Plummer said.
Plummer is not alone in his opposition. "This search just seems totally egregious," former Navy officer and current professor at Loyola Law School, David Glazier, offered in support of Plummer.
"It's egregious enough to get a search warrant to search the premises of defense attorneys. I don't understand why they simply did not get an order for the attorneys to turn over the cellphone."
Glazier went on to explain that, as a policy matter, investigators generally refrain from searching defense attorneys' offices, as improper disclosure confidential files can be grounds for dismissal of a case.
"It offers all kinds of opportunities to screw up cases," he clarified.
Base officials have refused to provide any additional comments on the matter, citing both the pending litigation and independent review process.