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Legal skills put to test in military, on campaign trail

July 12, 2012 | Alumni

From courts-martial to civil litigation and from camouflage to a suit and tie, Wesley Duncan ’06 has moved out of the “green zone” in Baghdad to the campaign trail in Nevada.

Duncan, an attorney at Lee A. Drizin, Chtd. in Las Vegas, who is now running for a Nevada State Assembly seat, served as an active duty Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force from 2007 to 2011. During that time, he was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and was deployed to Baghdad, where he worked at a forward operating base (FOB) that was one of Saddam Hussein’s former headquarter buildings.

“There I was in full body armor every day, and my side arm was locked, loaded and ready to go,” Duncan said. “Now I go to court – in a suit.”

As an active duty JAG officer, Duncan said he served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and, while deployed, a liaison officer for the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. He worked in the 12-story FOB in Baghdad, which had a completely hollow middle from a missile that hit the building at the beginning of the war. Duncan said about five days a week he would travel to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq to help the Iraqis prosecute al-Qaida and Shiite extremist groups that attacked Iraqi civilians or coalition forces. He said most of his responsibilities dealt with criminal law, an area in which he never intended to practice.

“I just kind of fell into it once I got there,” Duncan said.

After graduating from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Duncan moved to Arizona for a job offer he accepted with The Maricopa County Prosecutor’s Office. Instead, he opted for the Air Force JAG Corp after passing the Arizona Bar Exam.

“Once I got into the Air Force it was crystal clear. It was everything that I really wanted to do,” Duncan said. “Dealing with clients in court immediately, getting to wear the uniform, and serving your country was what really appealed to me.”

Now serving in the Air Force Reserve as a Captain JAG officer and Assistant Staff Judge Advocate while practicing civilian law, Duncan said he focuses his practice more on estate planning, guardianships, elder law, and civil litigation.

“No more criminal law for me,” he said. However, he does miss the client interaction, robust advocacy and court hearings that went along with being a military attorney in courts-martial proceedings.

Campaigning for a state assembly seat seems to fill some of the void, though.

“I get energized being out on the campaign trail. I like meeting people and hearing their concerns,” Duncan said. “It’s been great to connect and meet people door-to-door.”

Duncan said he’d always had an interest in public service — he studied political science at the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate — but was not allowed to campaign while serving on active duty.

“I had never ran a political campaign, never helped out with a campaign, but always had observed and enjoyed politics from the outside,” Duncan said. “Once I decided that I was going to be staying in Nevada, I wanted to get more involved.”

He said law school and his military experience, specifically with jury trials, advocating for a position, and being able to “think on your feet” prepared him for his campaign.

“Those types of things that you do in law school and that I was doing in the military completely translates over into the political realm,” he said. “You just never know what someone’s going to ask you.”

If elected, Duncan said he would aim to improve Nevada’s economy and education system, which currently has a 50 percent graduation rate in public schools. “Those are the big things that are really on Nevadans’ minds right now,” he said.

Knocking on doors about six to seven days a week since the end of January, Duncan said, “People are really surprised when a candidate actually knocks on their door.”

He added, “When you’re out talking to people, and they say, ‘I’m going to vote for you,’ and you’re meeting face-to-face, it really feels like the campaign is moving forward every day.”

By Sarah Pfledderer