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Defending Those Who Defend Us All

 Retired Marine JAG Officer Phillip Stackhouse Fights for Service Members and Contractors Across the Globe, from His Home Base in San Diego

There are plenty of attorneys who say they’ll go to the ends of the earth for their clients, but Phillip Stackhouse, L.L.M. has literally done it, successfully defending service members and contractors in the U.S., Europe, the Far East, and the Middle East. Indeed, Stackhouse, a two-time Meritorious Service Medal recipient, a Joint Service Commendation Medal recipient, and recipient of the Navy-Marine Corp Commendation—who also earned the Outstanding Career Judge Advocate Award in 2006—has devoted his life to going to any length to protect others.

At Stackhouse’s San Diego-based Military Defense firm, “We help service-members and veterans protect what they have earned in Courts-martial, Court-martial Appeals, Separation Boards, Review Boards, Record Corrections, VA Disability Appeals, and Security Clearance actions,” he says. “Our clients are typically active duty service members accused of allegations that range from unauthorized absence (AWOL) to drug abuse, drug distribution, aggravated assaults, sex assault/rape or murder. We also represent reservists and members of the guard who find themselves facing violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Additionally, Stackhouse assists service members and veterans needing records corrected, discharges upgraded, and those who need help obtaining or protecting their security clearances.

Suffice it to say, Stackhouse is also a rare breed amongst attorneys in that he has spent the last two decades representing service members charged with war crimes occurring in Afghanistan and Iraq—many of which have become internationally high-profile cases. Admitting that some of the cases he takes can initially appear sickening, Stackhouse is unapologetic about defending his clients, no matter the circumstances.

“We firmly believe that everyone deserves the best defense possible, regardless of the crime for which that person stands accused. That belief isn’t shared by all lawyers. However, we work very hard with our clients to discover their story—because we know that none of us are defined by our worst day, or the worst thing that we have done. We are much more than that. We find that story in each of our clients, and it allows us to take the hardest, most repugnant cases. We take the cases where the government is seeking to imprison or kill the accused, perhaps unfairly.”

Seeds of Service to Others Sown Early

Stackhouse’s steadfast belief that every individual is entitled to the best defense possible began taking hold when he was just a child. “Growing up, my stepfather was a public defender, and later a private attorney. From my perspective, I didn’t really understand why it appeared that he gave so much for what seemed to be very little in return,” Stackhouse recalls. But he was barely an adult when he began to truly understand the concept of putting service before self.
“I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was 18. I was able to complete my undergraduate degree while on active duty and then serve as a Marine Infantry Officer, a profession that embodies the ethos of servant-leader. I knew when I retired from the Marines that I wanted to continue serving others in a different profession,” he says.
As luck would have it, Stackhouse, who planned to attend law school using the GI Bill, wouldn’t have to leave the military to become an attorney. “I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to apply for a program in the Marine Corps wherein they would allow me to attend law school while I was on active duty in exchange for paying back that opportunity by serving additional years on active duty.”
It was a seamless fit for Stackhouse, who enjoyed the nuances of practicing military law, and spent his last seven years on active duty—barring time off to obtain his Master of Laws in Military Law (Criminal Law Specialty) and his Military Judge certification—litigating criminal cases as either a defense attorney, supervising defense attorney, prosecutor, or supervising prosecutor, trying upwards of 100 cases and resolving hundreds more.
“Practicing in the military justice system is extraordinarily unique. There are different rules, the judges are military judges, the clients are military clients, the jurors (members) are military and the prosecutors are military. It is a system that is designed to move very quickly from beginning to end,” he explains.
Today, as a civilian attorney working in the military courts, Stackhouse confirms that those years of experience laid the foundation for the successful launch of his private Military Defense firm, upon retiring from the USMC in 2006. However, his discipline and relentless pursuit of service to others hasn’t waned in the slightest since transitioning to a civilian attorney. On the contrary, he specifically sought to stay in the niche field, as it was not only a natural transition, but an “honor to represent our men and women in the military.”

Principle-Driven Private Practice

Stackhouse retained the principles that his career in the military instilled in him when he opened the doors to his own practice in 2006, and they remain firmly intact and adhered to by his team nearly 15 years later. “We are students of the profession,” Stackhouse says. “We either immerse ourselves in education or teach others advanced trial techniques for 3-4 weeks each year.” To that end, Stackhouse is a staff instructor at The Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer College, and presents trial advocacy courses throughout the year, including Death Penalty Seminars, and military courses such as the Air Force Advanced Trial Advocacy Course in Montgomery, Alabama. Likewise, Stackhouse studies affiliate fields, in an effort to provide the strongest defense possible for the accused. “We study outside of the law, by studying acting, psychology, psychodramatic techniques, storytelling, and other methods that help us to be better communicators.”
Stackhouse and his team are also fearless and relentless, refusing to give up, no matter the charges their client is fighting. “We care about our clients. It doesn’t matter what they are accused of or what they may have done. We listen, we learn, we discover who our clients really are, and what got them to where they are today. It takes time and effort, but it’s that time and effort we are committed to for our clients. We don’t punch a clock, we work until the preparation is done and we are ready as we can be; we task-organize a composite team of experts in the field and trial lawyers for every case so that we outwork the prosecutors and the government.” From pre-trial through trial, and if necessary, sentencing, Stackhouse says that no stone is left unturned, including employing cutting-edge techniques to mitigate punishment, and seeing clients through any necessary appellate processes.


Stackhouse’s discipline, experience, dedication, fearlessness and subsequent incredible results for clients have yielded him a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation’s most renowned military defenders. These talents have also thrust him into the spotlight, due to the high-profile nature of the cases he continues to take. For example, Stackhouse is currently representing Daniel D’Ambrosio, a SEAL accused of detainee abuse in Afghanistan, in US v. Daniel D’Ambrosio. He is also defending Edward Gallagher, a SEAL accused of murder and attempted murder in Iraq in US v. Edward Gallagher, and Matthew Golsteyn, a Special Forces Officers accused of murder in Afghanistan in United States v. Matthew Golsteyn. He is also defending Tony DeDolph, a SEAL accused of killing a Special Forces Soldier in Mali in United States v. Tony DeDolph.
“Cases originating out of combat zones have been defining for us. We’ve represented and are representing several men who have been accused of unlawfully killing someone in combat—in the fog of war—where leaders and the service member on the ground can’t go back and review the black letter of the rules but need to understand the spirit of the rules. The second guessing, the failure of leaders to reverse roles with the guy on the ground is repugnant to me. When we can help an infantryman, a SEAL, a Special Forces soldier or a Marine Raider who is being asked to do the unimaginable in combat and then being second guessed by their government—it gives us a cause that empowers, enlightens, and inspires. We get inspiration from helping the Nation’s warriors, who are being hung out by our government,” Stackhouse says.
In many cases, Stackhouse’s efforts have not only helped his client, but have helped countless others by proxy. Stackhouse points to the strides made by Ilario Pantano, after a dismissal of charges against the Marine Second Lieutenant who was accused of shooting two Iraqi men 60 times. Since that dismissal after the probable cause hearing (on the grounds of self-defense), Ilario went on to run for Congress twice, and “is a very successful executive helping veterans around the country,” Stackhouse says.
Similarly, Stackhouse recalls the gratification that came from defending service member, David H., who was accused of wrongfully killing an Afghan man in a combat zone. “It’s difficult to get to know a client 7,000 miles away, but we spent time on the phone and Skype when we could. We attended and defended David H. at the probable cause hearing and got the murder charges dismissed, but he still faced manslaughter and negligent homicide charges,” Stackhouse says. Upon returning for trial in Bagram, Afghanistan, Stackhouse was successful in showing the jury that what had happened was an accident—absence of due care—and as such, although the conviction of negligent homicide remained intact, David H. received no jail time, no discharge, and was only reduced two military ranks. “Each juror stopped to tell David that he was going to be ok. They cared, because we did our job,” Stackhouse recalls.

Future Expansion from Foundation in San Diego

Stackhouse’s empathy, ability to reverse roles to put others in his client’s shoes, and capacity for remaining calm under pressure have proven key to his firm’s steady growth, which he expects to continue into the future. “We hope to grow to 5-10 attorneys and open an East Coast office within the next five years, so that we can serve the two largest populations of service members and veterans in the country,” he says. Although Stackhouse’s life story could ostensibly fill volumes (including time spent working at the Pentagon, which he modestly describes as “an interesting time, where I worked with and met interesting people,” and his work as a legal advisor and investigator for a tragic aircraft crash, which culminated with clearing the names and reputations of the pilots after 10+ years), he’s currently enjoying the relative calm of his civilian life. “I love the law and the business of law, so my focus for the firm right now are the current cases, and business development, in addition to reading about international affairs in the locations of my cases,” he says. As for his life outside of work, Stackhouse says that the most enjoyable use of his time is spent with his wife, trial attorney Renee Galente Stackhouse, and their young son Gabriel. “We practice in the same location, so we get to spend time together most days. We help each other, we work cases with each, we push each other, and we work hard to spend all of our free time with our little boy—which is awesome,” Stackhouse says. However, in spite of his firm’s eastward expansion, and the global travel inherent in his practice, San Diego is finally home for Stackhouse. “Since 1984, I’ve lived all over, and even since retiring from the Marine Corps in 2006, I’ve moved three times. I’ve found my home in San Diego and I’m here to stay.”

» ADMISSIONS

  • Colorado, 2014
  • District of Columbia, 2010
  • Military courts worldwide
  • North Carolina, 2007
  • Supreme Court of the United States of America, 2004
  • Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1999
  • United States Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces, 2006
  • U.S. District Court, District of Colorado
  • U.S. District Court, District of Columbia
  • U.S. District Court, District of Wyoming
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina
  • Wyoming, 2014

» LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE

  • USMC, Infantry Officer
  • USMC, Lead Legal Advisor April 2000 Osprey Mishap Investigation
  • USMC, Military Justice Officer• USMC, Senior Defense Counsel

» TEACHING EXPERIENCE

  • Advanced Trial Advocacy Course, USAF Judge Advocate General School
  • Defense of the Damned, Trial Lawyers College
  • Department of the Navy "Defending Complex Cases"
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, National Trial Team Presenter
  • Trial Lawyers College Weeks 1, 2, and 3
  • Trial Lawyers College Graduate Course I
  • Trial Lawyers College Regional Programs (all trial skills)

» AWARDS, HONORS AND ACCOLADES

  • AVVO Rated 10.0 (Superb)
  • Veteran & Military Entrepreneur Awards, San Diego Business Journal
  • Outstanding Career Armed Services Attorney Award, Judge Advocate's Association
  • Meritorious Service Medal (x 2)
  • Joint Service Commendation Medal
  • Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal
  • Who's Who of American Law Students
  • Dean's Award, Western New England University

Contact
Phillip Stackhouse
427 C Street, Suite 220
San Diego, CA 92101
760-456-5386
stackhouse@militarydefender.com
www.militarydefender.com

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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