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Military Law,
Law Practice

Dec. 7, 2018

Soldier first, lawyer always

Many civilian lawyers in California join the California State Military Reserve to serve and support the people of California.

Antoinette Balta

Executive Director and Co-Founder, Veterans Legal Institute


The Veterans Legal Institute in Santa Ana is a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services to low income and homeless veterans. Antoinette is also an officer in the California State Guard.

Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse

Timothy M. Weiner

Assistant Supervising Judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court

Southwestern Univ Law School



With a population of nearly 40 million people, it probably comes as no surprise that patriots abound in California. What might surprise you is that many civilian lawyers in California are stepping forward to join the California State Military Reserve, donning military uniforms, and becoming subject to military orders -- all with a common mission to serve and support the people of California. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, prior military service or position on the political spectrum, these attorneys are swearing an oath of service to their state and nation, and swapping court attire for combat boots in order to support the California Military Department. Serving under the command of the governor and the adjutant general of California, this group of CSMR attorneys and judicial officers are stationed throughout the Golden State. Many are directly embedded in with Army and Air National Guard units, where they donate their time and skills to provide legal support to commanders and soldiers, as authorized by regulations.

What Is the Legal Support Command?

The CSMR is a state defense force authorized by Congress under Title 32 of the United States Code, at the recommendation of President Dwight Eisenhower, and formally established by the Legislature in the California Military and Veterans Code. The CSMR, like the California Army National Guard and California Air National Guard, is a component of the California Military Department that operates under the command of the governor and the adjutant general, a two-star general who is the commander of all state military forces. While CSMR soldiers perform mandatory military duty, including monthly drills and training, they generally serve without pay. CSMR soldiers provide the California Military Department with access to critical skills, including professions such as legal, medical, cybersecurity, and chaplain.

Most CSMR attorneys serve in the Legal Support Command, a unit within the CSMR. Attorneys who join the CSMR become commissioned officers, and carry the title of judge advocate. Commonly referred to as "JAGs," CSMR JAGs are required to drill, or be on duty, at least one weekend day per month and are expected to provide at least 100 hours of legal service per year. (Most provide much more.) Many CSMR JAGs are embedded with National Guard units, and service alongside Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen.

Who Are CSMR JAGs?

CSMR judge advocates are attorneys and commissioned officers who work as uniformed state government lawyers in a professional military environment. Members of the Legal Support Command perform mandatory military duty, including monthly drills and training. Upon receiving their commission, attorneys without prior military experience normally become first lieutenants, while those who have previously served in the armed forces are typically commissioned at their prior rank. Like their National Guard counterparts, CSMR officers who complete required training and service time requirements are able to compete for promotion to higher ranks.

Presently, there are approximately 70 judge advocates in the Legal Support Command. These attorney-soldiers are spread throughout California, and work as uniformed military lawyers to provide the state with specialized legal expertise in virtually every area of law, including family, administrative, consumer protection, civil litigation, criminal, construction, environmental/land use, government contracts, legislative advocacy, cyber and operational law. Many JAGs come to the CSMR with years of civilian experience. JAGs with prior military experience also serve in the Legal Support Command. Regardless, all CSMR judge advocates are required to complete the CSMR's Basic Orientation Course and other mandatory military training, and receive access to further training to enhance their skills as both soldiers and military lawyers, including in-house MCLE training and joint training with their Guard, Reserve and active duty JAG counterparts. Although most CSMR JAGs typically serve without pay, they may be ordered to state active duty by the governor during state emergencies such as the Mendocino Complex Fire, or to perform other military duties, at which time they are paid.

CSMR JAGs provide legal services in support of the California Army National Guard, California Air National Guard, and other California Military Department programs, as well as authorized legal assistance services to individual California National Guard soldiers and airmen and their families. By taking on legal assignments that compliment and support the work being done by traditional National Guard JAGs, the CSMR Legal Support Command acts as a force multiplier and increases the bandwidth available to its active duty colleagues.

What Is a typical Legal Support Command mission?

The Legal Support Command provides legal support to both commanders and individual soldiers, as authorized by regulations. There are two active Command Legal Service teams within the Legal Support Command, each of which provides legal support to commanders within the California Military Department, from the CSMR commanding general all the way to commanders at the battalion level. This support may take the form of a legal opinion, advice to a commander regarding discipline, acting as legal advisor to an investigating officer, or researching an education law issue that affects the Youth and Community Programs Task Force.

The Legal Support Command also operates a legal assistance program that provides advice and representation, including limited in-court representation, to California Army and Air National Guard service members and dependents. This is a soldier care program that is intended to protect deployed service members and military families from financial and legal threats. CSMR JAGs have prevented foreclosures, evictions and repossessions, saved jobs and security clearances, prevented bankruptcy and homelessness, deterred illegal debt collectors, and provided peace of mind to families whose loved ones are in harm's way, both on fire lines and on distant battlefields.

CSMR JAGs also support National Guard soldiers, airmen, and military families by providing counseling and estate planning services at Soldier Readiness Preparedness missions. Prior to deployment, each soldier, through his or her unit, has the opportunity to receive free estate planning services including a will, advanced health care directive, and powers of attorney. During these missions, CSMR attorneys provide counseling and document preparation for hundreds of soldiers each day. At these missions, CSMR JAGs are on duty during typical military hours: until the mission is complete.


Aditi Mukherji

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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