Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Suit Over Naval Adultery Ouster Chugs Along

WASINGTON (CN) - A woman booted from the Navy after an adultery conviction deserves another chance to contest that dismissal, a federal judge ruled.

Former Lt. Commander Syneeda Lynn Penland had served in the Navy for 19 years and seven months when she was convicted in 2009 of adultery, conduct unbecoming an officer, disobeying a lawful order, and making a false official statement.

Dismissed from service five months before she would have been eligible for retirement and full benefits, Penland filed a federal complaint last year against the six Navy officials she blamed for her conviction and punishment.

The adultery charges against Penland stemmed from Chief Petty Officer Kimberly Lewis-Wiggan's discovery of a flash drive containing photos of Penland having sex with a man who turned out to be the man Wiggan was divorcing, Lt. Mark Wiggan.

Penland noted the commanding officer who brought her up on charges, Capt. John Sturges, was motivated to retaliate against her because she had previously accused him of financial improprieties in his official duties.

Wiggan was given immunity and not prosecuted for his role in the relationship, for which Penland faced a fine and a sentence of 60 days' incarceration after she was found guilty in a court-martial.

Penland's complaint notes that she was not allowed to have her civilian boyfriend testify before the board that ultimately dismissed her, and that this board was also not "allowed to consider fundamental defects" in the court-martial when making its decision.

She filed suit after failing to overturn her conviction and discharge through Navy channels. The complaint alleges that the Navy selectively prosecutes women for adultery in violation of the 14th Amendment, and that Penland's Fifth Amendment rights were violated in the Navy's prosecution of her for a private, consensual relationship.

She also accused the Navy of violating the Military Whistleblowers Protection Act.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer kept only one claim alive Friday.

Most of Penland's charges against the Navy are "non-justiciable" because they are military personnel matters, and Penland does not challenge the outcome of her court-martial, the court found.

The Navy was wrong, however, to assert that it has sovereign immunity before submitting the full administrative record of the proceedings before the Board for Correction of Naval Records.

"Without the administrative record, the court has no basis to determine whether its decision should be upheld or reversed," Collyer wrote. "Indeed, the parties have not briefed the relevant issues. Therefore, the Navy's motion to dismiss this aspect of the Amended Complaint will be denied."

Penland's amended complaint, as quoted in the court's latest opinion on her case, says the "court-martial was marred by several fundamental defects, which taken in totality call into question the basic fairness of her prosecution, and which give this court jurisdiction to inquire [into] the legality of her prosecution."

Navy Secretary Raymond Edwin Mabus Jr. remains the lone defendant to Penland's action.

Penland's action seeks an order that the Navy retire her at the appropriate rank she would have obtained but for the allegedly unlawful discharge.

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