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Kathryn Davis

Kathryn Davis
Year Graduated: 1999
Title: Attorney
Area of Practice: Employment Law

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Home > Laura Heller
Laura Heller

Laura Heller

Doctoral Candidate, Law & Policy at Northeastern University
Year Graduated: 1994


Laura H. Heller, '94, feels called to serve her country. It's why she chose to work in the nonprofit world after graduating from McGeorge School of Law. It's also why she joined the U.S. Army as an interrogator before becoming a judge advocate.

"I feel like I had a lot of advantages in life," Heller says. "I felt it was important to acknowledge the privileges and the benefits I received, and to be able to give back and to serve my country in that way. It's really important, especially for people who have had a lot of benefits to give back. This whole country is better off for it."

Heller had always wanted to go to law school. At McGeorge, she was involved in the Public Legal Services Society and planned to practice nonprofit law. Though judge advocates who recruited there intrigued her, she couldn't figure out how to make practicing law in the military work financially with her student loans.

After graduating, Heller worked in public policy at the Boston-based Fund for the Public Interest. A few years later, she heard about an Army student loan repayment program for enlisted soldiers and visited a recruiting office to investigate. The recruiter offered her a chance to train as an interrogator and learn Spanish at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey. She signed up.

But after completing her interrogator training, no such jobs were available because the country wasn't engaged in war. So she applied for the Judge Advocate General's Corps and became a lawyer for the Army, specializing in administrative law and detention operations law. Heller spent seven years on active duty, deploying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Iraq. She served another 10 years in the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq again and Afghanistan.

At the end of 2002 when it looked like the U.S. was moving toward war in the Middle East, Heller volunteered for deployment and was sent to Guantanamo Bay. There she served as the legal advisor to the detention operations group (or military police). She issued legal advice about detainee operations, operational law, administrative law and military justice issues. Her role included being the liaison to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which investigates human rights issues.

In 2005, she deployed to Baghdad. She was the legal advisor to the U.S. military commander in charge of several detention facilities, including one holding top government officials. Her unit was responsible for detaining Saddam Hussein before his trial. Several days a week, she visited Baghdad police stations to train Iraqi lawyers who worked with the police. She also worked on military policy, focusing on prisoner care, and taught a class about human rights and criminal procedure to recruits at the Iraqi Highway Patrol Academy.

During her last few months, at the behest of the Iraqi police chief, she developed an Iraqi prison inspection program. Once a week, she and two other attorneys accompanied by a security detail, would drive around the Baghdad metro area, visiting Iraqi-run prisons unannounced to report on jail conditions. They often saw scenarios that did not meet international human rights standards.

She earned a bronze star medal for this deployment because of the danger she put herself in, making herself vulnerable to roadside attacks. "At the time you don't think about how dangerous it is because you can't keep going out if you (do)," she says.

In 2006, Heller resigned her active-duty commission and took a civilian position practicing law at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She was a legal advisor on intellectual property issues, focusing on areas including copyright law, trademark law and government ethics.

Heller has retired from the Army and is working on her doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University. She expects to graduate in May, with the goal of teaching college-level political science, focusing on the area where it intersects with international law and international relations.

Heller appreciates how McGeorge teaches both the academic and practical aspects of law, equipping students with critical thinking, writing and research skills.  "Research, writing, critical thinking: Those three things are the key to success to anything you want to do as a profession," Heller says. "If you want to be a successful student at McGeorge, there are very high expectations, and the discipline that goes into that serves you really well no matter what you do."

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