By For Event-News Enterprise
Military officials and their guests gathered to pay tribute to top Orange County attorneys Wylie and Ashleigh Aitken for their support of veterans and military causes.
The Center for Law and Military Policy, founded by Cypress resident Dr. Dwight Stirling, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fight to protect the legal rights of active duty service members.
This year’s gala attracted members of Congress, state officials and local officials along with special guests.
Stirling told the large crowd that the Center “had made significant progress” during the past year, noting that he testified before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in support of legislation to restore the rights of active duty service members.
Stirling, still a reserve prosecutor in the California National Guard, spent two decades in the Guard, much of it as a senior military prosecutor. It was there, said Stirling, that he learned of a judicial doctrine called the Feres Doctrine (pronounced FAIR-ees) that dates back to 1950 wherein the Supreme Court ruled that service members had no right to civil recourse, regardless of what happens to them on base or on the battlefield.
Seventy years later, “just because they wear the uniform,” said Stirling, active duty service members still have no right to hold wrong doers to account in civil courts. Mark Del Barba, the father of Dez, told of a horrific tale of how military medicine failed to diagnose his son’s flesh-eating bacteria condition, which nearly claimed his life.
While non-military medical professionals jumped in to save his son’s life, Del Barba said it was not before the bacteria had claimed his son’s leg.
His son, Dez, who had recovered enough to attend the dinner, received a standing ovation when he was introduced. The entire family flew in from Texas, where Dez is being treated, to California to be present at the dinner.
Stirling said Dez was a living example of how, under the 1950’s judicial ruling, the young soldier would be barred from holding the military doctors accountable for what many suspect was a gross and obvious case of military medical malpractice.
Stirling introduced the CLMP’s 2019 Honorees, Orange County attorneys Wylie and Ashleigh Aitken, who “have demonstrated a lifelong dedication to supporting veterans, the military and military families.”
Wylie Aitken, according to legal journals, has often been referred to as a “Superlawyer” for his prowess with juries. He called the CLMP’s mission “a very important one.” “Few people understand how service members are being denied their civil rights because of the ‘antiquated’ Feres Doctrine,” said Aitken.
“It’s a bad doctrine that needs to be changed,” he added, “and changed as soon as possible.” Aitken, who was recognized for his commitment to help veterans and military families, said using his legal skills to help those who serve was an honor. “They are the real heroes,” he said.
The CLMP also honored Aitken’s daughter Ashleigh, a co-2019 Honoree who quickly turned the spotlight to service members, military families and veterans as we approach Veterans Day.
“How many of us, as part of our daily jobs, risks sacrificing everything, including our lives, for the rights and freedoms of someone we have never met,” she asked to loud applause.
“There is nothing like the sacrifice or the patriotism of our military service members,” she said, adding that “I advocate for them because our veterans and our military families need us to fight for them as hard, and as wholeheartedly as they fight for us.”
Aitken recounted her experience years ago after first meeting Stirling and working together with him to create a standing committee on the Orange County Bar Association which still today provides resources to veterans and military families.
The Aitkens were also recognized for their work in creating Heroes Hall at the OC Fairgrounds and for their work to establish a new military cemetery for Orange County veterans.
“This law (Feres Doctrine) is shockingly shameful and unfair,” said Marcia Marinovich, CLMP’s Director of Development.
She noted that 150,000 veterans would be sleeping on the street that same night, adding that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Moreover, Marinovich said the Feres Doctrine, which prohibits civil prosecution, allows sexual assault to flourish in the military. “It is shameful that fifty percent (50%) of young women who enlist in the military will be sexually abused. “It is our mission to change this law,” she said.
Dr. Daniele Struppa, the President of Chapman University, also spoke in support of the group as he and Aitken, who is Chairman of the Chapman Board of Trustees, invited Stirling to return as an adjunct professor.
Also on hand to honor the Aitkens were several elected officials, including Congressman Gil Cisneros, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa A. Bartlett, Assembly Members Cottie Petrie-Norris and Steven Choi, and Deirdre Kelly, President of the Orange County Bar Association.
Michael Penn, the Chairman of the CLMP Event, thanked everyone for coming and supporting the men and women who actively “keep us safe” and preserve the nation’ s freedom.