Legal Counsel to Colin Powell Speaks to Law Grads
May 11, 2004

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Col. James P. Terry, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, gave the commencement address to graduates of the Walter F. George School of Law on May 8. The following is the text of his address:

Good morning President Godsey, Dean Sabbath, Dean Floyd, the Law Faculty, and good morning Class of 2004. It is such an honor to be back at the school that gave me, and so many like me, so many opportunities. In 1973, I sat in one of those seats, as an active duty Marine Corps Captain on assignment to law school, and graduation day was one of the proudest days in my life.

We were a class demographically much like you and yet somewhat different. We were older as a group of 87 in the entering class of 1970. There were 23 of us who had served or were serving in the military, many having served in Viet Nam. Over half of the class was married. We were, demographically, primarily from the southeast, but there was strong representation from other areas as well. We tended to worry less than students do today, believing that if we worked hard, everything would work out. And it did.

Our academic backgrounds were varied. I was a geo-chemistry major from Virginia, while my next door neighbor David Henderson, now a judge in Ohio, was a engineer from Georgia Tech. Our valedictorian, Ken Mann, was a graduate of the University of Miami and a Certified Public Accountant.

There were a number of undergraduate honor graduates from Mercer in the class, including Tommy Day Wilcox and John Carey. Tommy Day, I might add, is also a member of the Mercer Hall of Fame. Many of my classmates in that class of 1973 are setting the standard today in this community and other communities throughout the nation. Judges and Attorneys like Tommy Day Wilcox, David Henderson, Ken Mann, John Carey, Tommy Hinson, Chip Watt and Jim Anderson, who I am honored to work with at the State Department, are but a few.

Great friends that I met during that time included Nancy Terrill, soon to be a law student at Mercer, and now the Coordinator of Continuing Legal Education at the Law School. Nancy, in addition to be a lovely lady and wonderful lawyer, was in 1973, my next door neighbor and fellow resident of Tatnall Square. With Bill Thomas, then a visiting professor of Transportation and Labor Law, she was able to provide the best Louis Armstrong imitation I have ever seen. But, I might add, has been dean of the foremost Transportation Law Center in the country for the last 20 years. His tone, The Death of the Iron Horse, remains the finest legal and economic study of the demise of the rail system to be published, and required reading in every transportation law curriculum in the country.

 

 

You are embarking today on one of life's greatest adventures, and an adventure that will continue throughout your lifetime. When our daughter was preparing to graduate from Dartmouth in 1998 and was trying to decide what career to pursue, I asked her to consider law school. Not only did she find it as challenging as I'm sure you have, but she has found the practice of law to be stimulating, demanding and rewarding, just as I have, and just as I know you will.

When I entered Mercer in 1970, I was three weeks removed from my change of Command at the Marine Detachment on the Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga in San Diego and a year removed from my return from a tour as an infantry officer in Viet Nam.

The world was very different in August 1970, yet with many of the same concerns. We had already lost over 40,000 young Americans in Viet Nam, on our way to a total of 58,000 before we departed from that country three years later.

The United States was seething inwardly, questioning whether our engagement in such places as Khe Sanh, Mutter's Ridge, Hue City, Hill 881 and the Rock Pile was in the national interest. In 1973, upon our graduation from law school, the Paris Peace Accords to resolve the Indo-China conflict were being finalized and the way forward looked positive, even as our goals for Viet Nam had not been fully achieved.

Today, your world too is very different from the world when you matriculated in 2001. August 2001 was a quiet month in the United States. Congress was in recess, the economy was good, the Yankees looked tough, and my beloved Red Sox were surging. Only weeks after your first classes began, however, al Queda terrorists killed nearly 3000 Americans in New York at the Twin Towers, in Washington at the Pentagon, and on a quiet field in Pennsylvania.

And today, unlike August 2001 when our top national priority was ensuring that the economy headed in a positive direction, our top national policy priority now is winning the war on terror.

To that end, our work at the State Department today, and indeed, across a broad spectrum of the Federal Government, remains focused on creating stable governments in nations that once supported terrorism, going after terrorist support networks as well as the terrorists themselves, and helping alleviate conditions in the world that tend to enable terrorists to bring in new recruits.

The State Department today is focused on the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting our coalition partners to further our counter-terrorism, law enforcement and intelligence cooperation, and working to support democracy and generate prosperity, especially in the Middle East. The tasks we face are important and challenging, and the opportunities they present for attorneys like you are immense. We work on major assistance programs like the President's HIV/AIDS initiative, and seek to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We fight the trafficking of drugs and people, and seek to foster the rule of law in fragile societies.

In Iraq, for example, far away from the beauty that is Macon on May 8, the United States faces one of its greatest challenges in developing a free, secure, and prosperous nation. As a principal backer, the United States is contributing significant reconstruction funds and humanitarian assistance to this effort. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are providing additional funding through loans and grants. These resources, coupled with the growing assistance of international donors, will ease the transition from dictatorship to democracy and lay the foundation for a market economy and a political system that respects human rights and represents the voices of all Iraqis.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, and the Iraqi Governing Council have made great strides in the areas of economic stability and growth, and democratization. The CPA has issued a new currency and refurbished and equipped schools and hospitals. And as you know, the CPA is taking steps to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people just next month, on June 30. The CPA organization will dissolve on June 30 and the new Chief of Mission, John Negroponte, will assume responsibility for the effort at that time.

There is much remaining to be done and to say that we do not have major hurdles to overcome would be disingenuous. In concert with our coalition partners, we will continue to work to ensure the country's security as we effect a timely transition to democratic self-governance and a stable future. Overcoming the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime in Fallujah and Tikrit remains an extremely worrisome problem but I believe we are making progress. While the daily news you receive centers on the unrest in those areas, hundreds of other towns and communities in the vast majority of the country are peaceful and enjoying the fruits of democracy for the first time in their lives.

At the same time, we are helping to provide critical infrastructure, including clean water, electricity and reliable telecommunications systems which are essential for meeting basic human needs as well as for economic and democratic development. Thousands of brave young Americans, in uniform or in civilian clothes, are in Iraq now working tirelessly to help Iraqis succeed in this historic effort.

Alongside our military colleagues, the State Department, USAID, and the Department of the Treasury are working to implement infrastructure, democracy building, education, and health and economic development programs. These programs are producing real progress in Iraq. The number of contracts alone that have been negotiated to fulfill these requirements is incredibly large.

And public sector lawyers are in the center of this process. As you look at your future as a practicing attorney, you should be aware that Will Taft, our State Department legal advisor, has 187 lawyers in his stable alone. The Department of Defense, in its various organizations, has well over 2000 attorneys and the Department of Homeland Security's collective total, to include the former INS, the Coast Guard, and its other tenant organizations, is over 500.

These are young men and women like you who are looking for a way to serve their nation while being challenged in a way that is quite different from what you will find in any law firm. The need for bright, committed young attorneys, each with an unbending moral centerline, is immense. And in government service, there are no billing regimes, only hard work with the opportunity to be a part of something bigger and more important than the sum of the parts. And the pay is competitive.

I want to mention some data points that you might consider in terms of opportunities in working in the public sector. Just as there are big firms and smaller firms, there are huge Departments like DoD and much smaller agencies like the Federal Monument Commission with a staff of two attorneys. Each agency comes with its own legal requirements with its unique opportunities for practice.

My own experience is a case in point. As a Marine Corps attorney for much of my working life, I had the opportunity to defend 342 criminal cases, prosecute 683 criminal cases and serve as a military judge on some 510 more. When I was selected by General Powell to serve as his Legal Counsel in 1991, I had worked the better part of my working life on international law and treaty negotiation issues, with a heavy dose of environmental law, administrative law and personnel law, in addition to the criminal law work I mentioned.

The Government had sent me back to school on two occasions after law school for a Master of Laws Degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree, both in international law. And my experience is not unique among public sector attorneys.

More importantly, the life experiences that Government service has provided to me and to my family could not be replicated in any other career. In addition to extensive and complex trial work early in my career, I had the opportunity, for example, to negotiate settlement of foreign claims with the Philippine Government in the mid-1970s, the opportunity to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Malaysia in 1983, the opportunity to negotiate Defense Cooperation Agreements with the Gulf states following the first Gulf conflict during the period 1992-1994, the opportunity to negotiate implementing arrangements to the Dangerous Military Activities Agreement with Russia in 1994-95, and the opportunity to serve as Government co-counsel before the Supreme Court in the case of Rossi v. Brown.

When I left the Department of Defense in 1995, and joined the Department of the Interior, I was charged with managing the Administrative Law Judge System for the Department and subsequently with adjudicating off-shore oil and gas royalty cases.

When I was asked to join Secretary Powell's team at the State Department in 2001, I was embarking on a completely new adventure. My role involves the smooth integration of the Legislative Affairs function with that of the Legal Adviser's Office. The past three years have been a wonderful opportunity.

These are the same opportunities you could have if you were to choose a public service law career. I have looked at the resumes of this class. You, the class of 2004, are incredibly talented, highly motivated and positioned to take advantage of a far broader range of opportunities than were enjoyed by our class, the class of 1973. You have also had the opportunity to study under the finest faculty available anywhere. I can tell you , having practiced for over 30 years, that a legal education from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University is second to none.

I have spent a great deal of time teaching as a guest lecturer at American University, George Washington University and Georgetown Universities in Washington DC over the past 15 years and have had the opportunity to get to know their faculties. From this experience, I can tell you that professors like John Cole, Joe Claxton, Shand Watson, and the recently retired Jim Rehberg, all of whom taught our class as well, rank with the very best in this country. John Cole, I might add, was viewed by the majority of my class as the finest faculty member in this institution, and I would rank him with the best in the country.

In concluding, the Mercer law faculty, led by Dean Sabbath, has given you every tool, every advantage, every opportunity to succeed as attorneys in the broadest range of disciplines. You have studied in a beautiful facility, in a bucolic community, and among faculty who have taken a warm and personal interest in both your education and your future success. You have completed a curriculum as competitive as any in the nation.

Speaking for every parent, every professor, and every alumnus present today, we salute you and your accomplishments, and we wish you Godspeed. And I urge you to gaze broadly at your opportunities and not be afraid to consider public service law for your life's work. Thank you.

 

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