ANCHORAGE — The military's case against a Coast Guard captain accused of violating military code wrapped up Thursday with the officer's lawyers admitting their client committed adultery and fraternized with enlisted women -- but, they said, his behavior was not criminal.
The lawyers for Capt. Herbert "Mark" Hamilton said his extramarital relationships with multiple women come down to violating military rules and are not acts that would be considered illegal in the civilian sector. They said he should be dealt with by military discipline, not in a criminal proceeding that could land him in prison.
But the Coast Guard lawyers arguing that Hamilton deserves serious punishment said the captain did more than cheat on his wife of two decades. "This case is not about love, and it's not about sex," said government counsel Lt. Cmdr. Bill Dwyer in summing up his case before a hearing officer. "It's about careers. ... It's about abuse of power."
Hamilton, 48, is a senior member of the Coast Guard. His last position before the investigation began was as commander of Sector Anchorage, overseeing about 200 Coast Guardsmen in western Alaska.
On Wednesday, a young Coast Guard petty officer faced the military courtroom with tears in her eyes and told the two teams of lawyers the intimate, personal details of her sex life with her former lover, who was sitting across the room at the defense table.
It was the first time she had seen Hamilton since the spring, she said. There was no break-up, no goodbyes, not even a final text message between the two. Their last contact was on May 11, the day the Coast Guard relieved Hamilton of his duties -- a relationship that has become a part of the charges that Hamilton is facing in the military proceeding.
At several points during the testimony, she had to grab nearby tissues.
The woman, who was the second lover to take the stand in the proceeding, told the court the captain had been her best friend up until the abrupt ending to the affair. There may be others, Dwyer said, but the statute of limitations has expired for them.
Hamilton could have spoken during the three-day investigative hearing but chose not to. The hearing was similar to a civilian grand jury, with the notable exception that Hamilton's lawyers were able to cross-examine witnesses. The purpose of the hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence for Hamilton to face a court-martial or any further proceeding.
One of Hamilton's lawyers, Navy Lt. Tim Bergstrom, argued in his summary comments that Hamilton never used his position of power to advance the careers of the women, nor did his affairs with them affect his work as a senior officer in a leadership position.
Hamilton is charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In addition to the adultery and fraternizing, he is accused of indecent acts and disgracing the Coast Guard. Bergstrom said the captain's affairs were consensual and conducted in private.
"The specific acts alleged in this case are not intrinsically indecent," he said. "They are consistent with a sexual relationship going on between the individuals."
One charge against Hamilton is that he called the command center during sexual activity. Bergstrom said the call was an accident, made when his phone was inadvertently dialed.
Bergstrom also argued that the language that Hamilton is accused of using over government-issued cell phones was not indecent because the text messages were abbreviated. Bergstrom said Hamilton should get an admiral's mast, a non-judicial disciplinary hearing.
But government counsel said Hamilton's relationships affected his work, the work of the women, and the work of others in the chain of command. "Many of those women thought he was their best friend," Dwyer said.
Before May 11, Hamilton held a senior officer position in the Coast Guard as commander of Sector Anchorage, overseeing 200 personnel in charge of all the ports in western Alaska and all environmental responses to incidents in the western half of the state. He had been in the Coast Guard 20 years. He was also married, and still wore his wedding ring to court.
The petty officer told the court that she and Hamilton met in New Orleans while responding to Hurricane Katrina, started a sexual relationship then and continued it for years. The two never lived in the same city but kept contact on a daily basis with text messages, e-mails and phone calls.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits adulterous affairs that affect "the good order and discipline" of the Coast Guard. The code also prohibits officers from fraternizing with enlisted personnel. For the government lawyers to advance their case to court-martial, they must prove there is sufficient evidence supporting that the "good order and discipline" of the Coast Guard was affected by Hamilton's indiscretions with the enlisted women.
Some of the charges against him would not be illegal in the civilian setting in most states, or, at least, would not likely be prosecuted, like the adultery charge, said Coast Guard lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Greg Versaw, who is not involved in the case. Others, like the fraud and perjury charges, have closer ties to civilian law.
In Wednesday's questioning of the petty officer, government counsel Lt. Kismet Wunder asked about their working relationship. She told the court that the pair would often talk about their work days and issues they had in the workplace. She also said that Hamilton discussed senior military matters with her, had her proofread official documents, and talked about disciplinary actions against personnel. In turn, she often complained about her boss. Hamilton regularly referred to that boss, a junior ranking member to him but senior to her, as "the moron," she said.
The petty officer also testified that Hamilton would visit her on official work trips and that the pair communicated using his government e-mail and cell phone but that Hamilton "didn't cross lines" when it came to work matters. He often told her that he would pull no strings for her in the workplace; she also said she never asked him to.
The hearing, technically called an Article 32 Pre-Trial Hearing, provides both sides of the story to the investigating officer, Capt. Steve Anderson, who will forward a report to his superior officers. His choices range from recommending that the charges be dropped altogether to the most serious recommendation of a court-martial. He also has the option of adding to the charges. At two different points during the hearing, Anderson told both sides that he saw potential for additional charges against Hamilton, including obstruction of justice.
The petty officer who testified on Wednesday also faces reprimand but the charge against her is less severe because of her rank. She will be reprimanded in her unit by her captain, she told the court.