Battlestar Galactica: Lawyers & Frakking Toasters

Battlestar Galatica, both the first and second series, highlighted an usual theme in military discipline: NOT following orders.

Funny thing, it was great at saving the human race. And no one got a court-martial for saving humanity.

A constant in both series is reflecting values of the late 1970s and 2000s respectively, illuminating political and legal issues like the Eye of Jupiter.

Both also have Starbuck saying frak.

Let’s spin up the FTL and jump into the legal, political and historical issues of Battlestar Galactica.

Battlestar Galactica: 1978

The original Battlestar Galactica appeared on my birthday in 1978. The show had an Anti-Detente theme, evidenced in the Colonial Fleet on its way to a peace summit to end a war, instead resulting in the genocide of the human race. The Colonial President was both ignorant of warning signs and unable to respond when attacked. Humanity survived because of military officers recognizing warning signs and ignoring Presidential orders.

As further evidence of Cold War realities of the time, in the episode Experiment in Terra,  Apollo states that there could only be “peace through strength” to a nation of humans in a Cold War about to go nuclear after their Neville Chamberlain-esq president signed a “peace for our time” treaty with the East.

Shortly after the dovish president gave his speech, nuclear missiles were launched by the opposing fascist country.

Full nuclear war follows through an automated response system (highlighting mutually assured destruction only works when both sides do not want war).

Luckily for the planet Terra, the Galactica was in orbit and shot down the ICBMs, perhaps showing a rejection of President Richard Nixon’s ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union.

Despite being written when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, you cannot help but wonder if there were Ronald Reagan or Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson supporters on the show.

Saga of a Star World

In the Saga of a Star World, civilian leaders had a plan for extreme appeasement, thinking that if they totally disarmed, they would show the Cylons that humanity was not a threat to the Cylon Empire, thus resulting in peace.

It was a bad plan.

The Fleet survived because the military leaders (Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh), secretly refused to follow orders and kept the pilots on the ready to counter an expected surprise attack. Commander Adama even went so far to comment on discussing “discipline in the ranks” while defending the Fleet that otherwise would have been destroyed if they had followed civilian orders.

Lost Planet of the Gods, Parts 1-3

As the series progressed, the stories addressed recruiting new Viper pilots. While the Galactica had female bridge officers (including Adama’s daughter, who did not exist in the second series), the fighter pilots were all male at the beginning, but quickly became co-ed. This parallels the US military, which did not have a female carrier-based fighter pilot until Kara Spears Hultgreen in 1993.

Apollo married a female pilot named Serina (played by Jane Seymour), who was also a single mother of a boy named Boxey. Pro forma, she is killed within one episode. Apollo adopted the son with no mention of any adoption proceedings, hinting that a second marriage included adoption rights (or Serina was very prompt at filing out a will).

There is also a noticeable legal issue of the Boxey being left in the company of the male fighter pilots while drinking and gambling way past bedtime, raising potential delinquency of a minor issues.

Murder on the Rising Star

The original Battlestar Galactica had one “courtroom” episode where Starbuck was on trial for murder of a rival Triad player. It was interesting to see in BSG that the “defense attorney” was called a “protector.” The story briefly touched on ethical issues of the DA commenting on a case to the press. There was also one tortured witness scene where Boomer made a poorly executed, but correct, “facts not in evidence” objection.

Skinjobs & Toasters: A Battlestar Galactica for the 21st Century

The 21st Century retelling of Battlestar Galactica provided leaders who attempted to see the world black and white as they would have in the Cold War.

However, post-War on Terror, the enemy could look like anyone (something that eventually happened in Battlestar Galactica 1980).

Moreover, think about what would happen in the United States if our population was reduced to enough people to fill a baseball stadium.  Society’s values would be put through a meat grinder. People would focus more on loyalty to each other for survival and less on the rule of law. That is effectively what happened in Battlestar Galactica.

There are dozens of potential legal issues in BSG, Caprica, Razor and Blood & Chrome. Caprica went so far as having Adama’s father bribing judges, something never legal. The prequel even included group marriages, which legally would get complicated during a divorce in a community property state.

Focusing on Battlestar Galactica, several issues immediately jump out:

Presidential Succession: Roslin was sworn in by Priest, showing no separation between church and state;

Commander Adama attempted a coup d’état against President Roslin;

Admiral Cain on the Pegasus had her men torture & rape the Cylon Number 6 “Gina Inviere”;

Commander Adama planned to have Starbuck kill Admiral Cain; Admiral Cain had planned for her Executive Officer Jack Fisk to kill Adama;

President Roslin attempted to steal a Presidential Election;

Colonel Tigh used suicide bombers on New Caprica;

Commander Lee Adama violated Admiral Adama’s orders during the rescue of New Caprica (which saved the day);

Coup d’état by the Vice President Tom Zarek, complete with assassinating political leaders and attempted forced confession of Admiral Adama;

Execution of Vice President Tom Zarek and mutineers (most likely without a trial);

Admiral Adama drinking and taking pills while giving orders.

There are many, many, more legal issues in the series. For example, the co-ed bathrooms showed the employment lawyers had probably all been killed early in the war. Alternatively,  the ship was built quickly for the Cylon War for an all male crew and later integrated.

Crossroads Parts 1 & 2

The trial of former President Baltar addressed many trial advocacy issues. The charges against Baltar focused on his surrender on New Caprica to the Cylons and the following collaboration with the enemy, including death orders signed under duress.

The defense strategy focused heavily on witness impeachment, which included Colonel Tigh being drunk on the stand, admitting to the use of suicide bombers and murder of his wife for collaboration.

Further witness impeachment included President Roselyn admitting her cancer returned and admitting she was being treated with drugs that caused an altered mental state.

There are also perjury issues with Lt. Felix Gaeta’s testimony, omitting that Baltar had a gun to his head when he signed a death order.

Lee Adama was called as a witness for Baltar to impeach Admiral Adama sitting as a who judge had already determined Baltar was guilty. This legal strategy was problematic, due to Lee Adama also being one of two defense attorneys and the Admiral also being Lee’s father. The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.7, say the following on attorneys serving as witnesses:

(a) A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless:

(1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;

(2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or

(3) disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.

(b) A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by Rule 1.7 or Rule 1.9 [both address conflicts of interest].

There is a good argument that disqualifying Lee Adama from testifying about a biased judge would cause “substantial hardship” on Baltar, because it went to the heart of whether the accused could have a fair trial.

Lee Adama’s testimony focused on his opinion that the Fleet was a gang on the run, no longer a society, that had forgiven everyone else of all crimes that had been committed, such as his father’s military coup d’état and numerous other examples.

However, with Baltar, the Fleet wanted blood for his Cylon collaboration when the other option was extermination.

Baltar was correctly acquitted on the collaboration after surrender chargers, but he could have been convicted of treason for giving a nuclear weapon to the Cylon Number 6 Gina Inviere, which she used to blow up the vessel Cloud Nine and several other ships.

Giving Inviere a nuclear weapon that resulted in the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, would have been an impeachable act of treason. Additionally, the radiation allowed the Cylons to find New Caprica, which could have been added to the treason charges.

So Say We All

Science Fiction always reflects the times in which it is written.

Battlestar Galactica is no exception, whether it was made during the Cold War or War on Terror.

Both series demonstrate a frequent lack of following usually civilian orders, which were necessary to save humanity from extinction.

However, the lawsuit that Battlestar Galactica infringed on Star Wars will be discussed another time…

 

 

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.