Attorney David Coombs is an Army-only criminal defense counsel who, during his active duty career as a Judge Advocate, became widely recognized as one of the best attorneys in the U.S. Army. Mr. Coombs retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Army reserves in 2018. He has held nearly every position that you can hold as a trial advocate in the United States Army:
- Trial Counsel
- Senior Trial Counsel
- Acting Chief of Military Justice
- Defense Counsel
- Senior Defense Counsel
- Capital Defense Counsel
- Senior Capital Defense Counsel
- Professor, Criminal Law (JAG School)
- Advisor, Iraqi Criminal Court (Baghdad)
- Certified Military Judge
- Appellate Counsel (Defense Appellate Division)
Trial Experience that is “Second to None”
Over more than a decade in the JAG Corps, Mr. Coombs built a reputation as a skilled and formidable trial lawyer. He is respected by his colleagues in the JAG Corps, the judges before whom he appears, fellow defense attorneys, and law enforcement. According to a Reuters profile, Mr. Coombs “ha[s] built a reputation as a meticulous and thoughtful attorney among his Army colleagues.” He has also been described by various other media outlets as “forceful,” “hardnosed,” “creative,” and “resourceful.”
Here is what senior officers in the JAG Corps had to say about Mr. Coombs:
“Superb trial lawyer, he is the most technically proficient and most successful in the courtroom.”
“LTC Coombs is one of the top 3 defense attorneys in the entire Department of Defense ... He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the military justice system.”
“He has the ability to produce remarkable results where few other counsel could even tread water.”
“He works his cases hard, thinks through every detail, uses innovation, and prepares every case as if it were the case of the century.”
“One of the Army’s strongest trial advocates. Best trial attorney on this installation, his courtroom victories are legendary.”
“His courtroom skills are second to none in the JAG Corps.”
“Outstanding performance by perhaps the best trial defense counsel in the Army.”
“Each time he took hopeless facts and by meticulous preparation and case-shaping motions practice yielded unbelievably favorable results for soldiers.”
“He defines excellence, and his early nomination and certification to be a military judge is the truest testament to the JAG Corps’ trust in his phenomenal abilities and potential.”
“He possesses unparalleled knowledge of military defense law.”
High Profile Criminal Law Experience
Mr. Coombs defended two of the most high-profile and complex cases in military history: United States v. Manning and United States v. Akbar. In each of these cases, he worked tirelessly for his client, fighting the government at every turn.
In U.S. v. Manning, Mr. Coombs defended PFC Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning against charges relating to PFC Manning’s disclosure of hundreds of thousands of documents to the website WikiLeaks. The disclosure was the largest unauthorized leak of documents in U.S. history. Mr. Coombs mounted an aggressive defense of Manning in a case that spanned nearly three years and involved millions of pages of classified documents. Mr. Coombs fought each one of the 22 specifications tooth and nail. He filed hundreds of motions, forcefully cross-examined approximately 100 prosecution witnesses, and passionately argued complex points of law. The New York Times reported on the case as follows:
Mr. Coombs, 43, is deep into one of the most high-profile American military cases in recent years, leading an aggressive ... defense. In weeks of pretrial hearings, the tall, crew-cut lawyer ... has attacked the government’s case on every conceivable ground, even as he conceded that Private Manning was the WikiLeaks source.
The President of the Center for Constitutional Rights similarly praised Mr. Coombs’ defense of PFC Manning: “David Coombs had done an extraordinary job for Bradley Manning and we should applaud that. ... I’ve seen some of the best lawyers in the country ... And David can be credited as equal [to] or better than those lawyers. It was really amazing to be in that courtroom.”
Due to Mr. Coombs’ herculean efforts, PFC Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge against him: aiding the enemy. The Washington Post described the verdict as “deal[ing] a rebuke to military prosecutors who sought to prove that the largest leak in U.S. history had assisted al-Qaeda.” PFC Manning was convicted of other offenses after accepting full responsibility of the disclosures, and was facing 136 years in prison. Mr. Coombs continued to work on PFC Manning's case after the court-martial. Due to his ongoing efforts, and the efforts of others, President Barack Obama granted a defense commutation request. Based upon the President's commutation, the military released PFC Manning from prison on May 17, 2017.
From 2003 until 2005, Mr. Coombs also handled what one senior officer called “the toughest, most demanding criminal case that the Army has had in decades,” United States v. Akbar. SGT Akbar killed two fellow Soldiers in a 23 March 2003 attack on his own unit in Kuwait. The case was subject to extensive media coverage and Mr. Coombs was repeatedly quoted in such prominent media outlets as The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, CNN and the Army Times.
Most recently, Mr. Coombs successfully defended SFC Michael Barbera, who was accused of killing two unarmed Iraqi civilians. SFC Barbera faced life in prison, without the possibility of parole. The case garnered international attention after being reopened in 2012 based upon Congressional inquiries. At the Article 32 hearing, Mr. Coombs tore apart the government’s case. According to Reuters, “Barbera’s attorney David Coombs has sought to establish inconsistencies between witnesses’ statements, including where on their bodies the boys were shot, how many rounds were fired and whether the unit came under enemy fire after the killings.” After exposing all the weaknesses in the government’s case at the Article 32 hearing, the double murder charges against SFC Barbera were dismissed.
Nationally Recognized Expert in Criminal Law, Evidence, and Trial Advocacy
Not only has Mr. Coombs successfully defended hundreds of cases, he is also highly regarded as an expert in criminal law, evidence and trial advocacy. During his tenure as a Professor of Law at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mr. Coombs taught over 2,000 resident and non-resident students comprised of attorneys from all services, military judges, foreign exchange officers, and senior Army commanders. In fact, he may have taught either the prosecutor who will be trying your case, the detailed defense counsel assigned to you, or the military judge who will be presiding over the court-martial. Mr. Coombs continued to teach at the JAG School in his civilian capacity from 2009 to 2013. Mr. Coombs is also the Weisberger Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law, where he teaches Evidence, Criminal Procedure and coaches the law school's Trial Team. He has also taught Trial Advocacy at the law school in the past. Mr. Coombs is immensely popular among his students, earning near-perfect student evaluation scores and twice being selected professor of the year.
Mr. Coombs is a frequently sought-after speaker at national and international conferences. He has presented at the following:
- Harvard Law School (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
- Federal Bar Association (Providence, Rhode Island)
- National Judicial College (Reno, Nevada)
- Army Continuing Legal Education Conference (Weinheim, Germany)
- Appellate Military Judge’s Conference (Washington, D.C.)
- Multi-Region Army Trial Defense Service Conference (Washington, D.C.)
- Military Judges Conference (Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama)
- Congressional Legislative Liaison Conference (Charlottesville, Virginia)
In addition, Mr. Coombs has published several academic articles and practice manuals related to trial advocacy and criminal justice, including:
- United States v. Blazier: So Exactly Who Needs an Invitation to the Dance, The Army Lawyer, July 2010;
- Pass Go, Collect $200.00, and Hire Yourself an Expert - Article 46 and the Right to Expert Assistance, The Army Lawyer, June 2008;
- Uncharged Misconduct - The Edge is Never Dull, The Army Lawyer, May 2007;
- Dictionary of Common Evidentiary Issues, The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS) 2007, 2008;
- Advanced Evidence Deskbook, TJAGLCS 2006 - 2008.
Education and Bar Admissions
Mr. Coombs earned his Master of Laws (LL.M.), with a specialization in Criminal Law, from the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. He received both his Juris Doctor (J.D.) and his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from the University of Idaho, where he was a member of the Dean’s List. Mr. Coombs is admitted to practice before the following bars:
- The United States Supreme Court
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
- The Army Court of Criminal Appeals
- District of Columbia
For more information about Mr. Coombs, please feel free to ask him about his background, or click to see his complete resume.