At the request of Major Jessica Grace Martz, U.S. Marine Corps, NAFUSA member Steve Easton joined the defense team as lead counsel in the General Court-Martial of Sergeant Kayla Cerda, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina in December of 2014.
Major Martz met Easton when she was a student at the University of Wyoming, College of Law. Easton taught her criminal procedure and trial practice classes and was her moot court competition coach. He encouraged Martz to become a trial attorney and told her “if you ever need help, please call me.” When Martz returned to the Marine Corps, she became a new judge advocate. Soon she found herself “undermanned and overwhelmed” in the Cerda case and called upon Easton for help.
Easton joined the Cerda team in August of 2014 to provide pro-bono service, and as Major Martz reports, “His impact was immediate and extremely positive….His tenacity and professionalism in the courtroom were recognized by all, even the military judge.” Sgt. Cerda was acquitted of all charges.
After reading Major Martz’s letter, Easton responded,
While I very much appreciate Major Martz’s kind words, I feel compelled to note that she is being overly generous in describing our respective roles. While I was technically “lead counsel,” only because civilian counsel is presumed to be the lead counsel in court-martial trials, this was very much a shared command. While it might (or might not!) be true the Sgt. Cerda would not have been found not guilty on all twenty counts that went to the Members (as the jurors are called in court-martials) without me, it is definitely true that she would not have been found not guilty without the considerable skills and hard work of Major Martz. She handled dozens of key witnesses, conducted the voir dire, and gave the defense opening. In difficult circumstances, she was superb in all of these facets of the trial, as well as in her pretrial advocacy and investigative work. Working with Major Martz on this case was my proudest moment as a teacher. To see one’s student fight the good fight for her client, both ethically and tenaciously, against long odds, is something I will always treasure.
Easton reflected on the virtues of pro bono work,
As someone who wishes he had done a bit more pro bono work over the years, I can add that I am now a big believer in the concept that all of us should try, at least once, to pretty much drop everything and take on the representation of someone who could use our help, despite the odds and the reality that doing so will set us behind on everything else that demands our time and attention.
Easton is a professor of law at the University of Wyoming College of Law. He served as United States Attorney for the District of North Dakota 1990-1993.