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New Information Undermines Lawsuit Intended to Silence CMR

May 7, 2002
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Background and Overview Six years after a harassment lawsuit was filed in federal court to silence Elaine Donnelly and the Center for Military Readiness, CMR attorneys have presented to the Court new information that is devastating to what is left of the Plaintiff’s case. Feminist attorney Susan Barnes of Colorado, an activist and close friend of former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), has tried to salvage her fundamentally dishonest case by submitting a set of false or irrelevant affidavits, one of which was not even signed. On April 22, 1996, Barnes filed a bogus lawsuit on behalf of former Navy F-14 pilot Carey D. Lohrenz, which was intended to silence Elaine Donnelly and drain the resources of CMR. The pretext of the lawsuit was to accuse CMR of ending the already-failing career of then-Lt. Lohrenz by means of something Elaine Donnelly wrote. At issue is the comprehensive and still-unrefuted 125-page CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviation, published in April of 1995, which exposed special concessions in the training of Plaintiff Lohrenz and her colleague, the late Lt. Kara Hultgreen. Hultgreen crashed her jet on approach to the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on October 25, 1994. Lohrenz and attorney Barnes have produced absolutely no credible evidence to support their charge of "reckless disregard of the truth," which is key to proving their charges of defamation and libel. Barnes has nevertheless prolonged the litigation with several ploys, including a ludicrous "conspiracy" theory that was completely debunked during depositions, and a failed attempt to impose a "gag rulez" on Elaine Donnelly. Barnes has also benefited greatly from interference in the case by the Office of the Navy Judge Advocate General, which began during the Clinton Administration and is continuing today. New Evidence: Fatal Mistakes Discovery documents and testimony have revealed new evidence that political pressures to rush female aviators into combat aviation may have contributed to the tragic death of Lt. Hultgreen. On the day she died, Lt. Hultgreen made the same type of glide slope errors for which she had earned "pink sheets" for unsatisfactory performance twice before. In a review of previously undisclosed sections of sworn testimony taken during a 1998 Navy investigation, CMR discovered that one of the women’s F-14 instructors recommended a formal proceeding that might have postponed or prevented Kara Hultgreen’s graduation to the fleet. News that the instructor’s recommendation had been overruled might have caused a national scandal. But certain officials--some of whom were involved in the decision to rush the women to the fleet--launched a campaign to mislead the public about the circumstances of Lt. Hultgreen’s death and the training that preceded it. CMR published accurate information about concessions in training that contributed to the death of Kara Hultgreen. The result has been malicious litigation intended to keep the cover-up going. What the Navy Did Not Want Known From 1993-1994, then-Lt. Patrick J. Burns was a naval flight officer and instructor in VF-124, a west coast (San Diego) squadron that trained Lts. Hultgreen and Lohrenz to fly the F-14 Tomcat. On several occasions, Lt. Burns warned local commanders that the two women were not fully competent to fly the Tomcat in carrier operations, but to no avail. In the post-Tailhook scandal era, the Navy was eager to win a "race with the Air Force" by getting women into combat aviation. At an all-officers meeting attended by Lt. Burns in the summer of 1994, then-Cmdr. Thomas Sobiek, who was the commander of the training squadron VF-124, informed a group of concerned instructors that the women would graduate to the fleet, no matter what. At that point Burns began to realize two things: One of the women pilots would die, and Navy officials would deny reasons why it happened. Lt. Burns asked for the help of CMR because communications up and down the chain of command had completely broken down. During an extensive investigation of sex discrimination in Air Wing 11, which was conducted by the Naval Inspector General in 1996, Sobiek flatly denied that he had made such a statement. Several of the instructors, however, testified to the contrary. During a subsequent interview with Mike Wallace of CBS "60 Minutes," Sobiek finally admitted that he had made statements that may have conveyed the impression that the women would not be allowed to fail. He added that some female pilots were advanced in combat aviation ahead of many men who were kept waiting or forced to resign. ("60 Minutes," April 19, 1998) Almost immediately after Lt. Hultgreen died, some Navy officials falsely claimed that her crash was primarily due to engine failure. Aviators who viewed the videotape were not fooled. Even Carey Lohrenz admitted during deposition testimony that she was "incredulous" of the Navy’s story, because most accidents are caused by pilot error. (Transcript of testimony, Dec. 7, 1999, p. 479) It soon became apparent that attempts to "vindicate" Kara Hultgreen were really intended to deter questions about her competence as a pilot and the decision to graduate her to the fleet. Truth Comes to Light Six years later, CMR learned that Lt. Burns was not the only instructor to express concerns about Kara Hultgreen’s readiness to fly the Tomcat. Lt. Cmdr. Rheinhart "Rhino" Wilke, who was an instructor/landing signal officer (LSO) at the training squadron, testified during the 1996 Air Wing 11 investigation that he had reported similar concerns. According to previously redacted transcripts of interviews taken during the Air Wing 11 investigation, Lt. Cmdr. Wilke recommended a Field Naval Aviation Evaluation Board (FNAEB) proceeding to review Hultgreen’s performance. If his recommendation had been followed, the FNAEB might have removed Hultgreen from carrier aviation, or held her back for a third attempt at carrier qualification prior to deployment at a later date. But the Navy was eager to "make amends" for the Tailhook problem, and feminists demanded women in combat as the solution. (See "The Tailhook Scandals," posted in the Issues/Social Policies section of www.cmrlink.org.) During a deposition taken on April 28, 2000, former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Stanley Arthur said that Rear Adm. Kendell Pease, the Navy’s Chief of Naval Information at the time, had told him that Hultgreen and Lohrenz were doing well in training. Both men admitted, however, that that they had not viewed the training records of either woman. Adm. Arthur also admitted under cross-examination by CMR attorney Kent Masterson Brown that "...in this case we sent people to the fleet not qualified." (Transcript of testimony, p. 192, quoted in CMR Partial Summary of Deposition Testimony, posted on www.cmrlink.org.) Lt. Cmdr. Wilke told Air Wing 11 investigators in 1996 that Lt. Hultgreen probably would have succeeded as an F-14 pilot had she been given more time. Hultgreen was nevertheless rushed to the carrier Abraham Lincoln, where Wilke was also assigned as a senior "CAG Paddles" landing signal officer (LSO). During his testimony, Wilke said, "Watching Kara Hultgreen die was the worst thing in my life." (Transcript of Navy I.G. testimony, July 3, 1996, pp. 57-58) It is inexcusable that the Naval Inspector General’s Air Wing Eleven Report, which was released in July 1997, made no reference to this significant testimony. Many key figures, who must have known the truth, vehemently denied that there was any reason for concern about the women’s safety to fly. Technically, the women were designated "qualified," but the definition of "qualified" had been changed for political reasons. If the warnings of Lt. Cmdr. Wilke and Lt. Burns had been heeded in 1994, Lt. Hultgreen might still be alive today. Help for Barnes from the Office of the Navy JAG Starting in the fall of 1999, the Office of the Navy Judge Advocate (JAG) began interfering in this case by imposing constantly changing interpretations of "housekeeping" rules. These relatively new regulations, the JAG officers said, gave them the power to interfere with Elaine Donnelly’s rights of due process. Among other things, JAG Cmdr. John Maksym claimed the right to listen in and control private conversations between Elaine Donnelly and her attorneys with naval officers (active duty or retired) who might be called as witnesses. The JAG Office also claimed the right to choose CMR’s expert witnesses; to delay or deny testimony from ten key figures in the controversy, including then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig; to interrupt or forbid deposition questions about decisions involving the career of Carey Lohrenz; and to forbid testimony from witnesses about events occurring after their retirement from the Navy. These demands were accompanied by threats against active duty or retired Navy officers who failed to comply. To end the Navy JAG’s interference with Donnelly’s rights of due process, CMR had no choice but to file a separate lawsuit against the Navy. That case was unsuccessful but is on appeal, pending the outcome of the underlying case. This is not the first time that government officials have provided valuable assistance to Susan Barnes and her client. In a separate lawsuit filed against the Navy in December 1995, Barnes submitted a sworn affidavit alleging that a so-called "Tailhook Underground" conspiracy, supposedly headed by Elaine Donnelly, was formed by male aviators to destroy the career of Carey Lohrenz. Donnelly informed the Department of Justice that Barnes’ affidavit was completely false, but the Navy nevertheless awarded $150,000 to Lohrenz, who agreed to separate from the Navy. (Lohrenz v. Navy, settled in October 1998) Navy JAG Favoritism Worsens On October 24, 2001, CMR attorneys filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, asking presiding Judge Royce C. Lamberth to dismiss the case. Attorney Susan Barnes was granted a generous extension of time to answer, but she was still very late in filing her response on January 20, 2002. Her excuse for the three-week delay was astonishing in itself. The Office of the Navy JAG, she told the Court, had not moved quickly enough in helping her to arrange interviews with active duty and retired naval officers, or to gather declarations from them. Without notice to CMR attorneys, Navy JAG Cmdr. John Maksym was surreptitiously helping Barnes to contact active duty and retired officers who she hoped would help her case. CMR attorneys requested information on how many of these contacts were made, but have received no reply to date. Note: For more information on the declarations gathered by Susan Barnes and CMR’s response to them, see CMR LDF Update, Part 2 of 2, May 2002, Analysis of Documents Filed in Opposition to CMR’s Motion for Summary Judgment, which is also posted in the Issues section of www.cmrlink.org.. The Significance of Lt. Kara Hultgreen The chilling videotape of Lt. Hultgreen’s crash, replayed on television countless times, crystallized a long-standing debate over women in combat and double standards in training. To avoid designation as a public figure who cannot sue for libel, Plaintiff Lohrenz and attorney Barnes have tied themselves in knots trying to deny public awareness of the tragedy and the controversy surrounding it. Lohrenz and her Counsel have also asked the Court to dismiss as "immaterial" any testimony or documents relating to Kara Hultgreen, an inconvenient person they want the Court to forget. This is unacceptable, given the importance of high standards in carrier aviation, where the penalty for a single mistake can be death. On July 12, 1995, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a news photograph of the F-14 in which Lt. Hultgreen died. The caption beneath the photo read, "The F-14 is an unforgiving aircraft. Its safe operation is an issue that is bigger than more important than any individual pilot." This succinct statement, which happens to coincide with the views of Elaine Donnelly and CMR, stands in sharp contrast to the position of Carey Lohrenz and her feminist attorney. The mangled jet was pulled from the ocean at a reported cost of $100,000, even though there were no nuclear weapons on board and the mishap itself had been videotaped from start to finish. Similar efforts to retrieve the remains of male pilots and aircraft lost at sea historically have been exceedingly rare. The Navy’s public affairs people worked overtime to convey the impression that engine failure had been the primary cause of Hultgreen’s death, even though the wrecked jet provided no credible evidence to support the story. From the very beginning, the dissembling public relations campaign was an orchestrated cover-up, and a sad chapter in the history of the Navy. Throughout this litigation, Lohrenz and Barnes have shown little concern about the potentially disastrous consequences of their demands--not just for Lohrenz, but also for others who choose to serve their country in the hazardous field of carrier aviation. In effect, former Lt. Lohrenz selfishly demanded the "equal opportunity" to crash a jet. Now her activist attorney is asking the Court to agree that the career ambitions of a single, solipsistic female pilot were more important than other people’s lives, high standards in naval aviation training, and national security itself. Their position coincides with the interests of some former Navy officials, both civilian and uniformed, who had an interest in preventing the truth from being known. If CMR is silenced, a valuable resource for conveying information about issues of public importance, such as safety in naval aviation, will be lost. This is why the Center for Military Readiness is fighting this litigation, and why CMR must prevail. CL050702 * * * * * * * The Center for Military Readiness is being represented by noted constitutional lawyer Kent Masterson Brown, Frank Northam, and Christopher Shaughnessy of the firm Webster, Chamberlain & Bean in Washington D.C. Tax-deductible contributions to the CMR Legal Defense Fund may be addressed to CMR/LDF, P.O. Box 51600, Livonia, Michigan 48151. For additional background information, excerpts of testimony, and other relevant facts revealed during this litigation, please see additional Legal Defense Updates and Summaries in the Issues section of the CMR website, www.cmrlink.org.
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