The Protect Our Defenders Justice Award

Every year since 2016, Protect Our Defenders has presented the Justice Award to distinguished legal professionals representing survivors of military sexual assault. The purpose of this award is to recognize attorneys and others who put special effort toward pursuing real justice for survivors, often in a system where the odds are stacked against them.

To nominate a survivor or advocate for the next Justice Award, please contact us. The POD board considers all suggestions and makes its selection annually in November. See also: the Coughlin Courage Award, a separate award given by POD to sexual assault survivors who display special heroism.

POD Justice Award Recipients

2021 – Maya Eckstein, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP

Since our partnership with Hunton Andrews Kurth began in 2020, Maya and her team of excellent partners, associates, and paralegals have crafted two outstanding amicus briefs on behalf of Protect Our Defenders: a challenge to the Feres Doctrine, and the liberal consideration of those seeking medical retirement as a result of military sexual assault.

Without hesitation, Maya and her colleagues have stepped up to the plate to assist in setting legal precedents for survivors. It has been an honor to work with her and her colleagues, and we thank them for their incredible work.

2020 – Peter Coote of Pennoni

Peter Coote has been a long-standing advocate for survivors of military sexual assault. Undaunted by the obstacles that befall those who take on pro bono work on behalf of survivors of military sexual assault, Peter has represented clients in a myriad legal settings, including the Supreme Court of the United States (see amicus filed in US v. Mangahas), where he has a legacy of challenging the decisions that aversely impact his clients’ rights.

Despite his many successes, Peter is extremely humble of what he has managed to achieve on behalf of survivors. Protect Our Defenders was honored to bestow upon him the 2020 Military Justice Award, and is also grateful for the assistance and support provided by Pennoni.

2019 – Mary Rose Hughes, Perkins Coie

Since attending a 2016 meeting about POD’s Pro Bono Attorney Network, Ms Hughes has been a fierce advocate, representing survivors of military sexual assault all over the country and encouraging other civilian attorneys to do the same.

Hughes has confronted some of the most difficult challenges imposed by the Department of Defense. In 2019, she helped create POD’s Legal Training Manual to better assist other civilian attorneys who are interested in helping survivors but are daunted by the military justice system. Today, Mary Rose partners with POD to train civilian attorneys.

2018 – Dwight Stirling, Center for Law and Military Policy

Mr Stirling is a nationally recognized expert in assisting survivors of military sexual assault upgrade their characterizations of discharge. The Veterans Legal Institute (VLI), a nonprofit law firm he co-founded, provides free legal services to veterans.

Stirling also teaches the Veterans Legal Practicum at USC School of Law where he assigns each student two upgrade cases, many of which are placements from POD. The law students perform their advocacy work under Stirling’s supervision, projects culminating in petitions submitted to the military’s boards of discharge review.

2017 – Ryan Guilds of Arnold & Porter 

Mr Guilds and the law firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer have been tireless advocates for survivors seeking to have their voices heard.

In addition to representing survivors, they help build the skills of other legal advocates by hosting Protect Our Defenders’ Victims’ Rights training seminars. “Ryan and the team of attorneys from A&P are the heroes of the many survivors they have fought for, and POD is proud to present the 2017 Justice Award to Ryan and the firm for the many lives they have changed” said POD President Don Christensen, (pictured, right).

2016 – Cacilia Kim & Elizabeth Kristen of the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center

As Special Counsel and Director of the Gender Equality & LGBT Rights Program, Ms Kim and Ms Kristen worked tirelessly on behalf of military sexual assault survivors through POD’s Pro-Bono Network.

The Awardees have worked on a number of cases that bear a disturbing similarity: cases where survivors were diagnosed with pre-existing personality disorders instead of PTSD due to MST after reporting their attacks. Photo: Cecilia Kim, Elizabeth Kristen with their awards and Rep Jackie Speier.