Buffalo Law Journal’s Michael Petro sat down with Robert Singer to learn more about his experience as a JAG officer, relocating to Buffalo from Hawaii, and starting a criminal law practice group, see his answers to these 5 questions.
What was your motivation to become a JAG officer and lawyer?
I knew that I wanted to join the military following September 11, and the JAG program kind of provided both the paths to being a lawyer and serving in the military. After graduating from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 2006, I went to boot camp and started out in the JAG corps down in Jacksonville. I was defense counsel for military members accused of crimes or facing termination from their employment. About a year later, I switched to becoming a prosecutor and I did that for almost three years. I deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and I was doing a (NATO) Rule of Law Field Support Mission there. My job was to coordinate between the Afghani national security apparatus and their police force and take all of the bad guys captured and put them into the Afghan criminal justice system. After finishing that, I went to Virgina Beach, where I was basically serving as a general counsel for Naval Air Station Oceana, which is the master jet base for the East Coast. After finishing that tour, I went out to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where I started out as special assistant U.S. Attorney and my job was to prosecute crimes committed on a military base by civilians. I then became a special victims prosecutor for the remainder of my tour out there.
What were your responsibilities?
You probably read a few articles about sexual assault in the military and Congress obviously prioritizing that the military make sure it does right by its sailors. Senior prosecutors like myself were appointed to take on some of these roles. Our entire tour was dedicated to taking care of prosecuting any of those offenders when the evidence met the crime and also responding to instances of sexual harassment on the job, something that fell short of a criminal offense but creates a hostile work environment or creates a problem for sailors working on a ship or wherever they’re working. It was pretty high visibility work because I sometimes felt as if there was less than six degrees of separation between myself and Senator (Claire) McCaskill or some days, even the president. It was interesting to see how my boss, who was the only female flag officer involved in any of these hearings in the 2012-13 time frame, became kind of the belly button for anyone in Congress to find out what’s is going on with this. All of a sudden people knew about what was going on in cases of mine all the way back to Washington D.C. It was unnerving but at the same time interesting.
What brought you back to Buffalo?
I went to law school with Matthew Miller and Jamie Batt, who are both partners at Rupp Baase. I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and my wife grew up in Williamsville and was a Williamsville teacher before she decided to follow me around the world. I met her while I was at UB Law School. Matt suggested I talk to (Rupp Baase managing partner) David Pfalzgraf and what started out as an informational interview morphed into a job offer. I came back with my wife and asked her what she thought and in the end, we decided to make the difficult choice to leave the world we were in for Buffalo. I don’t think any of us have any regrets. I grew up in Long Island and went to Hamilton College for undergrad, where a group of my friends were from Buffalo, so I had gotten a chance to see Buffalo even before law school through visting them.
Read More of his answers to the 5 questions.