Military Law Section

Neal Allen Puckett, chair

The Virginia State Bar Military Law Section increased membership to 236 from 214. Growth is good! Green is also good. We successfully made the transition from a printed newsletter to a greener online version available on our website to all members.

Once again, several members of the Section Board of Governors traveled the world in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and defended high-profile courts-martial throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. One member continues to serve as deputy chief of defense the Office of Military Commissions. The author of this report defended the primary Navy SEAL accused of physically abusing an Iraqi detainee suspected as the mastermind behind the 2004 slayings and mutilations of four Blackwater contractors in Iraq.

As reported by past chair Edward L. Davis in the section’s 2008-09 annual report, the nation of Afghanistan called upon the Virginia State Bar for assistance in developing its own bar association. Afghanistan reported that the VSB response was overwhelming, with forty-five attorneys volunteering to assist in this important endeavor. The visit from the Afghan Bar president was cancelled, due to issues with scheduling a visit to California and lack of funding. Thanks are due, however, to all those who were standing by in support of the visit. We will continue to offer assistance in that endeavor.

A past Military Law Section board member, retired Army Lt. Col. Steven Chucala, first brought to the section’s attention in fall 2006 that the Commonwealth of Virginia was not complying with the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act of 2003 as it pertained to personal property tax exemptions. Specifically, active duty military members in Virginia who were not legal residents and who had registered or titled motor vehicles jointly with spouses who were also not legal residents of Virginia were being denied tax exemption status simply because they registered jointly. Board members agreed it was a valid issue and that tax relief was appropriate. But since this board was prevented from lobbying or litigating the matter, Mr. Chucala took it upon himself to seek an attorney general’s opinion. In a letter dated November 16, 2009, Virginia Attorney General William C. Mims, issued a written opinion declaring that a service member who is not a domiciliary of Virginia is not subject to personal property tax on vehicles primarily located in the commonwealth, even if title is jointly held with a nonmilitary dependent. This was a monumental achievement and exemplified the commitment to serve those who defend America for which Mr. Chucala is legendary in the U.S. Army. The Military Law Section applauds his achievement.

The section hosted its annual continuing legal education program on May 14, 2010, at Geiger Hall, Marine Corps Base Quantico. Registering 105 attendees, we experienced our best turnout to date for this increasingly popular free program that included instruction about constitutional law issues in the war on terrorism, as manifested at Guantanamo Bay and in military tribunals. The CLE was presented by Eric S. Montalvo, a retired Marine Major judge advocate and partner at the law firm Puckett & Faraj PC. A program on Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights was presented by Courtney Wheeler, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel for the judge advocate general and the ombudsman director for Virginia employer support to the Guard and Reserve, and a one-hour program on ethical issues facing military attorneys was presented by VSB Counsel Edward L. Davis, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

I would like to thank our VSB liaison Dolly C. Shaffner for her dedicated assistance with the CLE and all of the section events. There can be no finer liaison than Ms. Shaffner.

Updated: May 17, 2011