Classes began May 9 at the center, which offers troops in the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps, known as judge advocates, an opportunity to gain supplemental training on important legal issues.
The Army Advocacy Center is a first for the Department of Defense and is modeled after the Department of Justice's national advocacy center in Columbia, South Carolina.
A multipart investigative series published last month by The War Horse website found the military justice system in the Marine Corps to be seriously broken, with defense counsel facing threats to their careers simply from doing their jobs and battling repeated efforts to circumvent due process for defendants. Advocates have described similar concerns about the defense counsel provided in other services in recent years.
A report last year by the Army JAG Corps to the American Bar Association found there are approximately 1,885 active-duty Army judge advocates but only 148 active-duty troops serving as military defense counsel for the service.
The limited number of military defense attorneys, and a history of defense counsel serving under the same command as military prosecutors, has at times created challenges for the military justice system.
Courses at the new Army center will be offered throughout the year, and will typically last between two days and two weeks, Michael Mulligan, the center's director and a former judge on the Army court of criminal appeals, told Military.com. The curriculum includes everything from basic trial litigation to handling of sexual assault cases.
Classes with open seats will be available to troops in other services, according to Mulligan.
Army officials hope the new training center will create an opportunity to elevate the skills of judge advocates, especially troops working as defense counsel, who have a particularly challenging role in the military legal system.
"The advocacy center will synchronize all advocacy training, within one facility on Belvoir," said Lt. Col. Theo Voudouris, the center's operations officer, in a press statement. "This will serve as a centralized location for members of the Army JAG Corps, worldwide, to attend training courses in civil and military justice litigation."
The United States Trial Defense Service, the agency within the Army JAG Corps that provides free legal services to troops, trains its lawyers through its defense counsel assistance program. It will now also be allowed to use the advocacy center. One class in particular, the joint capital defense course, will be strictly available for defense counsel, according to Mulligan.
It takes extended training to become a member of the Army JAG Corps. Following law school, and a six-week direct commissioned course at Fort Benning, Georgia, judge advocates go through military legal training at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia. That's only a roughly two-hour drive away from the advocacy center at Fort Belvoir where they can now receive further education.
Construction began last fall on the $7 million, almost 9,300-square-foot facility, according to a service press statement.
-- Jonathan Lehrfeld is a fellow at Military.com. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media.