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Posted on Aug 21, 2002 Print this Article


The Center for Military Readiness is celebrating victory in litigation that President Elaine Donnelly described as "harassment by feminist advocates who misused the Court to threaten my rights of free speech. This victory upholds the right of CMR to question official policies that elevate risks, and to advocate high, uncompromised standards in naval aviation training." The lawsuit was filed in April 1996 by former Lt. Carey Dunai Lohrenz, who was one of the first two women trained to fly the F-14 Tomcat. In October 1994 her colleague, Lt. Kara Hultgreen, crashed and died while attempting to land on the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Lohrenz was removed from carrier aviation in May 1995, due to flawed flying techniques that her superiors described as "unsafe, undisciplined, and unpredictable." With the help of attorney Susan Barnes, a feminist activist, Lohrenz blamed Donnelly for causing her to wash out by publishing the 1995 CMR Special Report: Double Standards in Naval Aviation Training. The 20-page report, backed by 104 pages of training records and related documents, exposed a pattern of low scores and major errors in the F-14 training of both women that may have contributed to the tragic death of Kara Hultgreen. On Friday, August 16, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia GRANTED CMR’s Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing Lohrenz’s action "with prejudice." Judge Lamberth also DENIED a cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Lohrenz, who asked the Court to declare her a "private individual" eligible to sue Donnelly and CMR for libel and defamation. Instead, Judge Lamberth found Lohrenz to be a "limited purpose public figure," who was featured in abundant news coverage since 1991. Lohrenz was at the epicenter of a significant public controversy--not just women in combat aviation, but long-standing questions about special treatment in training. That controversy intensified after the death of Lt. Kara Hultgreen. CMR lead attorney Kent Masterson Brown, of counsel with Webster, Chamberlain & Bean in Washington D.C., hailed the massive, well reasoned 55-page opinion as "A tremendous victory for the First Amendment." Brown noted that, "Even though Judge Lamberth properly considered the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,’ he found that Elaine Donnelly and CMR acted responsibly and without ‘actual malice’." In the Court’s opinion, Lamberth found that since "Donnelly [took] care in verifying her facts and sources," he could not rule in favor of the plaintiff, Carey Lohrenz. "Donnelly did obtain portions of plaintiff’s training records, did confirm that the facts contained in those records were correct, and did base her publication on those portions." The Court acknowledged that some Navy officials disagreed with Donnelly’s conclusions, even as they confirmed that the facts she had obtained from her source were "largely accurate." The opinion affirms that Donnelly had the First Amendment right to question "the Navy’s ‘party line’," especially since experienced aviators who reviewed Lohrenz’s training records told her that they were the worst they had ever seen. The controversy began in 1994, when one of the women’s instructors, then-Lt. Patrick (Jerry) Burns, expressed his concerns to local commanders about the women’s safety and competence. In the aftermath of the Tailhook scandal, Burns and other instructors were told that the women were going to graduate to the fleet, no matter what. Navy public affairs officials led the nation to believe that Lt. Hultgreen’s death was primarily due to engine failure, rather than pilot error. At that point Burns called and then sent a signed letter to Donnelly, asking for her assistance in informing high-level officials of special concessions in training that may have contributed to the death of Hultgreen. The opinion affirmed, "[T]his Court's review of the letter sent from Lt. Burns to defendant Donnelly clearly reveals the letter as one that would not be immediately suspect or one that would provide "obvious reasons" to doubt its veracity; much to the contrary, the letter is replete with technical vocabulary, dates, scores, and details that appear to validate the experience and knowledge of the author." Elaine Donnelly expressed great satisfaction that the Court ruled in her favor, just as she predicted it would all along. She noted that "In 1995 I learned that the information I had was 'largely accurate,' but top officials of the Navy had no intention of admitting there was a problem or doing anything about it. "This victory will strengthen the Navy by discouraging official cover-ups, as well as any repetition of double standards in training that elevate risks and undermine morale." End For more background on Lohrenz v. Donnelly and CMR, see the Issues/Lawsuit Section of CMR’s website, The Center for Military Readiness is an independent public policy organization that specializes in military personnel issues.
Posted on Aug 21, 2002 Print this Article