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Trust but verify


For the third time in two years, the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps is awash in scandal. And this time it has only itself to blame.

The high-profile cases that led to the 2005 demotions and retirements of then-Maj. Gen. Thomas Fiscus, the Air Force's top lawyer, and then-Brig. Gen. Richard S. Hassan, director of the Air Force Senior Leadership Management Office, involved conduct unbecoming and hanky-panky with women. These were hugely embarrassing to the JAG community.

But the revelation that led to the Nov. 30 firing of Col. Michael D. Murphy, head of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, is in its own way even more disturbing.

Murphy has been practicing law without a license for more than 20 years. And he's been lying about it - implicitly and explicitly - all that time.

The inconvenient truth didn't prevent him from rising through the JAG Corps ranks, however.

Until his removal last week, Murphy oversaw an agency responsible for the administration of the Air Force's civil litigation program and criminal justice process. He has also served as general counsel in the White House Military Office (twice), commandant of the Judge Advocate General School and staff judge advocate for Pacific Air Forces.

After having his law license suspended for seven years by Texas for failing to file a timely appeal for a client, Murphy applied for another license in Louisiana in 1983 and lied on his application, saying he had never been sued or been the subject of a disciplinary action.

When Texas and Louisiana found out about that lie, they stripped him of his license -for good.

So why didn't the Air Force find out?

Apparently, it hadn't asked for proof of his credentials to practice law since 1985. Amazing.

"We are an integrity-based organization, and so we trust our people when they assert that they are qualified," said a spokeswoman for the judge advocate general of the Air Force.

Integrity is great, but it's dangerous to assume everyone has it.

One might expect that, having been burned three times already on the integrity issue, the JAG Corps would have realized that former President Reagan's maxim, "Trust but verify," is advice to live by.

And apparently it finally has.

"Prior to this we did not have a system that called for people to prove their status, although we have that now in place as of this moment," the spokeswoman said.

Now the Air Force JAG should fully explain what that system is, and how it will be monitored in the future.