International Adventures, Military Law, and Seafaring, Oh My, The Eclectic Travels of a Navy JAG Corps Lawyer

Theresa Champ

In every issue of NWLawyer, the nationally recognized WSBA member magazine, we feature a different member with a Beyond the Bar Number Q&A. In the November issue of NWLawyer, one member’s worldwide-hopscotching, maritime, military backstory was just too interesting to cut especially on the eve of Veteran’s Day.

Read on to learn more about Theresa J. Champ, and keep an eye out for the latest NWLawyer to see how she responded to our questions. (If you’re a WSBA member and would like to potentially be featured in a future Beyond the Bar Number, head to the NWLawyer page and download the questionnaire.)

The Life and Career of Theresa J. Champ

I am the youngest of five children. My parents are Christian missionaries. From ages 1-5, I grew up in between the United States and Mexico. In Mexico, my parents volunteered at orphanages and homes for the elderly and helped set up schools in rural areas. When I was 5, we moved to Eastern Europe. There my parents smuggled bibles into Communist countries and set up underground bible study groups for college-aged students. After four years of this work, my mother was arrested by the KGB in Bulgaria, and our family was blacklisted from entering the Eastern bloc countries. As a result, we moved to Peru when I was 9. During our four years in Peru, my parents set up schools for missionary children, and assisted with orphanages and homes for the elderly. After the Shining Path terrorist group made our time in Peru a little too dangerous, we moved to Ecuador. Two years later, I told my parents that I wanted to return to the United States to go to school and become a lawyer. At 15, I hardly knew what exactly that meant, but it was a goal that I kept in my mind that ultimately led me to law school 15 years later.

I took a circuitous route to law school. I bounced around the country, but ultimately enrolled in college at the University of Oregon where I graduated in 2004 with a degree in political science. In 2005, I became a 1L at the University of Washington School of Law. After passing the Washington bar the summer of 2008, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer.

During my 2L year, I began to think about what I wanted to do as a lawyer. I had always been adventurous and had grown up in a life of service to others. I became intrigued by the Navy JAG Corps because it seemed to combine my various interests and goals. I was thrilled when I was accepted, but admittedly also nervous about my decision. However, looking back now, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I have had more learning experiences, adventures, and professional opportunities than any job I could imagine.

My first tour in the Navy was three years in Newport, Rhode Island, where I was the defense counsel and legal assistance attorney for the area. I was immediately handling court-martial cases and administrative separation boards for sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines. I also assisted service members and their families with a wide range of civil legal issues.

My second tour was three years at the military commissions where I was the lead military defense counsel for two Guantanamo Bay detainees. During my time there, I was able to negotiate a plea deal for my Saudi client that took 11 months to put together. I worked with my client, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the [U.S.] State Department, the prosecution, and Joint Task Force Guantanamo to finally get my client back to his family after being held without charges for 12 years.

For my third tour I was the deputy staff judge advocate for commander Naval District Washington [in Washington, D.C.]. In that capacity, I advised the region admiral in all legal issues that developed in the capital region. This ranged from courts-martial to ethics to contracts to administrative legal matters. It was a steep learning curve, and I learned a lot in those two years.

My fourth tour, I was extremely excited to get stationed back in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! I spent two years as the Legal Assistance Department head in Bangor, Washington. I managed four legal assistance offices in Western Washington and led over 40 officers, enlisted, and civilians in the department. I trained new attorneys and paralegals in civil law, and ensured clients’ legal needs were met.

I am currently stationed onboard USS John C. Stennis as the command judge advocate. I joined this mighty ship in April of 2018 and we went on a seven-month, around-the-world deployment from October 2018 to May 2019. During our deployment, we conducted combat operations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and performed operations in support of national interests in the South China Sea. In my capacity as the command judge advocate, I advise the commanding officer in all areas of law.

In my free time, I am an avid hiker, runner, and adventurer. I love to travel, both nationally and internationally. I am obsessed with our amazing national parks, and it is my goal in life to visit all 60 parks. I love to read historical books (I read 27 books on deployment), dabble in amateur photography, and drink wine. I am married to a wonderful, supportive husband who puts up with my adventuring, and I’m a mother to a son who gives me focus.