A military judge took the rare step Monday to remove a prosecutor accused of misconduct from the war crimes case of a decorated Navy SEAL. Capt. Aaron Rugh ordered the lead prosecutor removed from the case of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher after defense lawyers accused the prosecution of spying on their emails, according to the ruling. The defense asked Rugh to dismiss the case or remove prosecutors because of the surreptitious effort to track defense emails without court approval in an effort to find the source of news leaks, the AP reports. Rugh said it was not in his power to determine if Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak violated ethical or professional rules, but the potential for a probe into those actions required that he be removed from the prosecution.
Rugh has not yet ruled on whether to dismiss murder and attempted murder counts against Gallagher. Court documents state that emails containing hidden monitoring software were sent to defense lawyers, a Navy Times journalist, and Gallagher's commanding officer in Iraq, the New York Times reports. Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and military judge who teaches law at Georgetown, says he's never heard of anything like this. He says Czaplak's decision to track defense attorneys' emails was "contrary to legal ethics and common sense." "Unprecedented is too tame a description for what he did," says Solis. "His conduct has been entirely inappropriate." Czaplak will be replaced with another attorney from the Navy, spokesman Brian O'Rourke says. The removal of Czaplak could delay the trial, which was scheduled to start June 10. (Trump has praised Gallagher and is reportedly planning to pardon him.)