Bergdahl Court-Martial Conviction for Desertion Voided After Shook Partner Files Suit

Washington D.C. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled on Tuesday that a military judge had an undisclosed potential bias involving former President Donald Trump, justifying vacating former Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's court-martial conviction for desertion from the Army.

The judgment came after Shook Partner Matthew Bernstein and his legal team filed suit arguing against Bergdahl’s conviction in the military court system on the issues of the unlawful command influence over his case by comments made by Senator McCain and President Trump, and the fact that the military trial judge failed to disclose a potential reason for disqualification based on his application for an immigration judge position. 

“This case is unique in that the head of the executive branch during part of the plaintiff’s court-martial proceedings—former President Trump—and thus the ultimate authority over the agency that would determine the military judge’s appointment as an immigration judge, expressed during his candidacy and subsequently ratified after his election explicit condemnations of the plaintiff, reflecting his ‘discernible interest in the outcome,’” stated Walton.

The Court vacated all orders and rulings, including all appellate opinions, as of October 16, 2017, the date of the military trial judge’s job application.

Bernstein’s co-counsel in this matter included Professors Eugene Fidell of Yale Law School, Frank Rosenblatt of the Mississippi College of Law, Stephen Saltzburg of George Washington University Law School, and Stephen Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law.

The decision was covered by national and international news outlets including The New York Times, NPR, The Hill, Fox News and Law360.   

The case is Bergdahl v. U.S., No. 1:21-cv-00418 (D.D.C., July 25, 2023).