SWLAW Blog | Alumni
April 5, 2016
Alumni Q&A with Patricia Gruen '01
Q: What motivated you to pursue a legal education?
A: I wanted to help people. I originally thought I would do this by practicing environmental law, but I ended up serving our country and focusing on criminal law.
Q: How did you decide to earn your JD degree at Southwestern?
A: Southwestern had the PLEAS program. I wanted to go to a school that was in the Los Angeles area and that had a program more compatible with my life at the time. I had three jobs and three children; one of my jobs was assisting in running our family business, Gruen Construction.
Q: Did the PLEAS program make a difference in your ability to be successful in law school? What would you tell a prospective law student with family obligations about PLEAS?
A: Yes, the program is great. It helped me get started in that I could take fewer classes and therefore maintain my other duties. It was also great because I went to summer studies abroad and then was able to accelerate my studies and finished in 3.5 years as opposed to 4 years. I am not sure other schools that offer 4 year programs allow you to accelerate your studies and participate in traditional programs such as the Moot Court and summer abroad programs.
Q: What are some of your fondest memories of being a law student?
A: Working with the local elementary students as the lead community social liaison, because inspiring children to want to continue their education is important and rewarding; studying abroad because I really got to know some of my colleagues; and working in the Public Affairs Office where I got to know incredible people like Associate Deans Leslie Steinberg and Debbie Leathers and report on matters such as the president of Burundi’s position on foreign policy and law when he came and spoke at the law school on African conflict.
Q: Who among your Southwestern professors do you consider mentors and why?
A: Christopher Cameron because he supported me in obtaining an externship at the California Attorney General’s Office when other professors thought it might prove too daunting with my schedule, and because he is truly brilliant, yet remains kind and humble; Anita Glasco because of her energy and ability to make difficult concepts simple; and James Kushner who inspired my love for Constitutional law and service to community.
Q: What influenced your decision to join the military (after completing law school)?
A: I had worked for the LA District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office. I knew I wanted to practice in a public service forum. I had considered the military, and after 9/11 my final decision was easy. I wanted to learn about international law and fight terrorism and contribute to national security.
Q: In which states and countries have you been stationed? Which was/were your favorite assignment(s) and why?
A: My family has been stationed at bases in Washington, Guam, California, Alabama, England and Japan. However, I was the most travelled Area Defense Counsel and lead Prosecutor, which had me serve in more than 40 bases worldwide including in: Turkey, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and I was deployed to Iraq. Each assignment was challenging and a favorite in its own way. The challenge of prosecuting the highest level al-Qaida operatives still being held in 2007 made that a most difficult yet rewarding assignment. As lead prosecutor of the Special Victims Unit, I was called mainly to handle the Air Force’s highest profile and most complex/worst sexual assault cases. This, too, was a very challenging yet rewarding position.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of living abroad for your various assignments?
A: Not being close to family and friends.
Q: Have there been any particularly memorable cases that you tried in your previous positions (as a Staff Judge Advocate, Deputy Chief Senior Trial Counsel and Special Victims Unit, Senior Trial Counsel, and Area Defense Counsel)?
A: Yes – hands down the Military Training Instructor cases out of Lackland have had the most congressional and media coverage and impact on our current law regarding sexual assault in the military. I led the prosecution of Chief Gurney, which was also highly politicized as he was the second highest ranking enlisted member in the Air Force when his crimes were discovered. I defended a young Airman accused of murder, and that was a very eye opening experience. Again, successfully prosecuting high level al-Qaida operatives was an experience that could never be replicated in another place and time (Iraq 2007).
Q: What did you enjoy most about being a military trial attorney (judge advocate)?
A: I like the feeling of being an integral part of an important legal system – the Military Justice system. I like keeping the massive power of government from crushing Airmen as a defense attorney. I like being thanked after a successful litigation by victims who sometimes did not even want to talk to me in the early stages of the process. I like knowing that what I do ensures good order and discipline and thus effectively supports and maintains national security.
Q: As an Air Force judge who is currently based in Japan, what kinds of cases do you preside over?
A: All criminal cases that I am detailed to. I have worked on child molestation, child pornography, rape, sexual assault of a lesser degree than rape, illegal drug use, larceny, etc.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a judge?
A: Again, supporting a legal system I believe in and also serving as a teacher and mentor to younger litigators.
Q: What advice would you give to law students who may be interested in pursuing a legal career within the military?
A: Do it! Just do it! We currently have an all-voluntary force, and many have no desire to serve in the Department of Defense. However, if you have any inclination whatsoever, go for it. It is a very difficult career path, but as you prove yourself, the challenges you will be trusted with are some that you could never have imagined before taking them on, challenges that will teach you things about the law and take you places that will inevitably make you a better person, advocate for rule of law, American and world citizen.