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Coast Guard Admin Courts Stacked
Associated Press  |  June 25, 2007
BALTIMORE - Decisions by judges in the Coast Guard's administrative court system almost always favor the agency over civilian mariners, according to a newspaper's review of court records and other documents.

One former judge testified that judges were pressured to side with the Coast Guard, The Sun of Baltimore reported Sunday.

The agency's administrative court system handles charges against tugboat captains, engineers, charter fishermen and others who need licenses or other documents from the Coast Guard to work. The harshest penalty in the system is revocation of those credentials.

Mariners have won just 14 cases out of more than 6,300 charges filed by Coast Guard investigators since 1999, when the agency restructured its judicial system to broaden defendant's rights, the paper said it found through a computer analysis of court records.

In a sworn statement, Judge Jeffie J. Massey has testified that Chief Judge Joseph N. Ingolia told her to always rule in the Coast Guard's favor, and she said she came under intense pressure when she did not, the newspaper said.

"I was specifically told (by Ingolia) that I should always rule for the Coast Guard," Massey said. "He said, 'The Coast Guard are out there keeping our seas safe and we have to do everything we can to support them. They know when to bring these cases and we're just supposed to help them.'"

Ingolia and others in the Baltimore-based Coast Guard administrative law office declined to comment on the advice of the U.S. attorney's office in Louisiana, which is representing them in lawsuits saying that judicial instructions are illegal rule making and obstruction of justice.

The Sun said two internal memos it obtained showed that Ingolia issued private instructions telling other judges how to rule.

Massey, an experienced judge who has held similar positions in other agencies, retired this year.

Ingolia was defended by another former Coast Guard judge, James Lawson, who said the chief judge never coerced him.

"I always found everyone in Baltimore to be courteous and professional," Lawson said. "They were there to help, not to tell me what to do."

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