Serving those who serve the country
For Lt. Ann Tuddenham ’11, law school was part of the plan, and the U.S. Navy is where she found her place.
Although she came from a “Navy family,” Tuddenham wasn’t sure that a career in the military was something she wanted to pursue until her first year at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
“It wasn’t until I was a first-year student and figured out what they really do in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps that I thought it was something for me,” she said.
Tuddenham’s experiences in the JAG Corps have given her a chance to work in a variety of different legal positions, including Staff Judge Advocate, which is similar to an in-house counsel. She has given advice to commands at sea, as well as having represented sailors who are at risk of getting administratively dismissed from the Navy.
“In my caseload, I see a lot of guys getting kicked out for drugs. So if someone comes in and tells me, ‘I didn’t smoke; it was secondhand smoke,’ we can talk to them about passive inhalation and stuff like that,” she said. “I’m making the argument for them in terms of what should happen at an administrative separation board.”
Tuddenham makes the point that these men are not “regular people” who have committed crimes.
“These are people who have been deployed multiple times to serve their country, who have raised their hand in service and moved to 1,000 different places for service. So it’s not hard to defend those people at all,” she said. “People make mistakes – that happens – and everybody should get a fair shot in having their case heard.”
When it comes to arguing cases for sailors, Tuddenham lets the argument make itself.
“As an attorney and under the rules of professional conduct, I absolutely cannot tell a board a lie, and I can’t let my client mislead the board. I can sleep soundly knowing that,” she said.
When she entered the Navy, Tuddenham had a lot to learn about codes of conduct designed specifically for the military and how they differ from the federal and state laws she was accustomed to working with during her time at Moritz. The whole military operates under The Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“The body of knowledge that I need as a JAG officer and lawyer in the Navy doesn’t have a lot in common with things you learn for the bar exam,” she said.
Despite the learning curve, Tuddenham put her skills from law school to good use. Critical-thinking skills and the ability to argue prove invaluable to her on a daily basis.
“In terms of issue-spotting and being able to take a client and figure out where the issue is and what a goal is and how you’re going to solve that, that is 100 percent what I learned in law school. It’s legal analysis,” she said.
In many circumstances, Tuddenham is the only legal counsel sailors and commanders have. This means that she addresses any and all legal questions that happen to arise on a ship.
“Everybody in the fleet expects, ‘You’re a lawyer, you know law stuff,’” she said.
It soon became apparent that law school had taught her a certain way to think and argue that allowed her to make a logical argument for a legal problem. These are the skills she uses to give in-house counsel to a ship’s command or advise sailors who are in jeopardy of getting dismissed from the Navy.
Serving three months aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in the Pacific Ocean, Tuddenham saw firsthand what life for sailors in the Navy is like.
“It’s a different world because it never stops. There is no weekend; there is no time after work. You’re just at work all the time,” she said.
Although she never got seasick, Tuddenham did experience less-than-ideal Internet access, homesickness, and the difficulties of changing time zones. But her experiences have made her more equipped to serve in the Navy.
“What I learned in terms of being a good officer in the Navy and being a good lawyer far outweighed the discomfort and challenges,” she said.
Her time at sea helped Tuddenham feel more like a part of the Navy and not just a lawyer.
“On the one hand you have the people in the Navy who say, ‘You’re a lawyer; you’re not in the Navy.’ And you have lawyers who say, ‘Oh you’re in the Navy; you’re not a real lawyer,’” she said.
But Tuddenham is both sides of the double-edged sword. She is a real lawyer in the Navy.
This article was written by T.K. Brady.