Fairness issue arises at academy Forgiveness of debt of one ousted Mid spawns other appeals

'It is very arbitrary'

November 21, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

The politically pressured forgiveness of an expelled midshipman's education debt has raised serious questions about paybacks and fairness in discipline at the Naval Academy.

Lawyers handling cases of midshipmen expelled for drugs, cheating or violating the ban on sexual relations between midshipmen say the Pentagon might have hindered the academy's ability to collect repayments and given an impression that it fosters an environment of inequality among the midshipmen.

At the behest of Democratic Sen. Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky, the Pentagon this week absolved Guy Ormsby III, one of 15 midshipmen expelled in 1995 for allegedly taking LSD, of repaying the $86,000 cost of his education.

William Ferris, his lawyer and an academy graduate, said he would "make an issue in other cases of the fact that recoupment wasn't required in the Ormsby case."

Ferris said he believes the Navy will have a difficult time requiring repayment by midshipmen asked to leave because of lesser charges than drug use. Last week, Ferris argued the case of a midshipman expelled one month before graduation because he did not meet the academy's leadership standards.

"What they are telling me is that if I had done drugs, I would have gotten off scot-free," said Bill Bradley, 26, the former midshipman, who had been in the Navy for four years before going to the academy. "It is like you can smoke a joint before you graduate and then walk away."

Ferris said, "I don't see how someone cannot be required to pay money for a drug case, but someone thrown out for deference in leadership is required to pay money."

The Ormsby case could also set a precedent for other service academies, Ferris said.

Walter E. Horton II was expelled from the Air Force Academy in May for allegedly kissing a fellow cadet's arm without her consent. He was three weeks shy of graduation and owes the federal government more than $100,000 for his education.

"I think the Ormsby case is something I can use for my benefit," Horton, who was class president and homecoming king at Mountain View High School in San Jose, Calif., said in a telephone interview. He attends San Jose State University and is awaiting the Air Force's ruling.

When Ormsby, 24, was ordered to pay the academy $86,000, he contacted Ford, his senator, who pressured the Pentagon to absolve Ormsby of the debt. The Pentagon relented. The 14 others expelled with him are required to pay.

Those midshipmen were eager to hear of the decision and said they are filing appeals.

"The academy didn't earn that money; we did a job there," said a midshipman expelled in the LSD case, who asked the Pentagon to re-examine her case. She asked not to be identified for fear of hurting her appeal. "We gave up our summers, and it was a sacrifice."

"I finally feel a little bit of hope. I served four years in the Navy, tTC and I represented the Navy well," said another woman forced out after the drug scandal. She has also asked that her case be re-opened because of Ormsby's. "It wasn't take, take, take. I gave back to the Navy. I think asking for $86,000 without the sheepskin on the wall is ridiculous."

The Navy sends expelled midshipmen notices each month asking for payment with interest accruing at about 5 percent annually.

"Where are you going to get a job that allows you to pay pack

the government if you have just been kicked out for bad conduct," said Dennis Murphy, who assisted the Naval Academy in a review of payback cases in the late 1980s.

"It is very arbitrary. There is no standard, and it is left up to the whim of the secretary of the Navy," said Murphy. "The midshipman who doesn't know anyone is less likely to get a favorable result."

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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