JAG LAID DOWN THE LAW
Juliet Britton sees a little of everything in her work as Beaverton’s presiding municipal judge.
That’s nothing new for Britton, who had to do a little of everything when she was in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Britton was already an attorney working for the state Legislature in her home state of Hawaii when she signed on with the U.S. Army as a judge advocate in 1999.
She described “the almost immediate leadership and responsibility that you’re given as a judge advocate officer, with very little supervision.”
“You’re expected to be the logistics expert. You are to make sure that the jury is there, that the witnesses are there, that the paperwork’s done correctly,” Britton said. “And so, here I am, fresh out of law school, and I’m expected to sort of be in charge of all this, and also, almost immediately, (I) was overseeing staff.”
Britton bounced around during her six years in the JAG Corps. Every place she went, she did something new.
At an Army base in Georgia, early in her military career, Britton was a prosecutor. Later in her career, at Fort Knox in Kentucky, Britton saw the other side of the courtroom as a senior defense counsel.
At the time, the United States did not allow openly gay people to serve in the military under the so-called “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy. But when one woman Britton recalls as an “excellent soldier” went through a messy separation, her ex outed her to her military superiors, Britton said.
Britton defended the soldier, as was her legal duty, but the policy was clear. The soldier was stripped of the benefits she had earned for her long service in the Army and discharged.
Britton said she struggled with the case.
“As attorneys — and judges — we take oaths to uphold the laws as they’re written at the time,” Britton said. “I felt like I was fulfilling my oath of representing her to the best of my ability, highlighting her record and whatnot — and I can’t take responsibility for the law at the time.”
Still, she added, “That was the first time I really questioned whether I wanted to stay in the Army since that discrimination is not my personal value. … Up until then, I felt like my work was making our country safer and the Army better.”
But Britton was also able to push back on injustice during her career.
Britton was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona when the abuse of detainees by soldiers and CIA operatives at Abu Ghraib, the infamous Iraqi prison, came to light.
Fort Huachuca is best known as the home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, where military intelligence personnel are trained. As a judge advocate posted to that base, Britton said, she was asked to help change training procedures to address the abuse.
“We’ve got to talk about it and make it very clear what’s allowed, what’s not allowed,” she said. “That felt good to be part of the solution, so that doesn’t happen again.”
In 2005, Britton retired from the Army. She had given six years of service to her country at a time most other young lawyers were networking, building a client base, and establishing themselves in the legal community.
Britton doesn’t regret it, she said.
“I loved almost every minute I was in the Army,” she said. “I felt like I had a purpose. I felt like I was contributing to something — a mission that was fundamental … and I just enjoyed that all around. Including the difficult times.”
Britton moved to Oregon in 2009, serving as executive director of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board from 2013 to 2018, when she stepped into her current role in Beaverton. She enjoys the work, which requires her to fill many roles, function as part of a larger team, and uphold laws and ordinances — much like her work in the Army.
Britton said she has “no doubt” that her time in the JAG Corps paved the way for the rest of her career.
“That leadership and management experience was very valuable to my then civilian life that came after,” she said.