June 9, 2022 – University of Houston Law Center alumna Nikita Westberg is currently working as a United States Air Force Judge Advocate at Luke Airforce Base in Arizona. She is Chief of Legal Assistance assisting active duty and retiree clients with legal questions, drafting wills and powers of attorney.
Westberg was the first student to sign up for the Law Center’s Military Justice Clinic in 2020. The clinic provides law students with an opportunity, under the supervision of faculty and experienced military defense attorneys, to represent service members facing criminal charges. Students are assigned to defense teams and help lead clients from intake through adjudication of the case under terms of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Five of the clinic’s inaugural students have also been accepted into the JAG Corps.
“The clinic is a great way for students to show that they are serious about future service in the JAG Corps,” said Military Justice Clinic Adjunct Professor and Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Jason Marquez. “Receiving a commission is a highly competitive endeavor and having a track record of service to country and our service members is important on a candidate’s resume.”
Clinic students take three units, eight hours a week and clients are based all around the world. Marquez says that the remoteness of the pandemic really lent itself to the work they do in supporting service members abroad. That real-world training, working with clients in need, was what gave 1st Lt. Westberg a taste of the JAG Corps.
“The Military Justice Clinic was my first experience in defending people who had served,” said Westberg. “It’s protecting the rights of service members who are on trial and making sure that both sides follow the rules.”
“From day one, Nikita struck me as even tempered and extremely thoughtful,” said Marquez. “She took new students under her wing, helped them apply for jobs and opportunities; she has a heart for serving others. Putting others before self is really what this is all about.”
There is a history of Naval Service in Westberg’s family with her father who is a veteran, and her sister who is currently serving. They were surprised and excited when Westberg followed in their footsteps. While Westberg did her undergrad in genetics, she had a strong desire to serve her country.
“The idea of helping people was why I chose the practice of law,” said Westberg. “There’s something special about the military and I was more drawn to it because of my family background.”
“I expect big things from her,” Marquez explained. “Both in service to our country, the Air Force and the airmen that will be placed in her care.”
After her training is complete, Westberg will serve at Luke Airforce Base for two years. She’s prepared and proud to deploy if needed. Her family and her husband have been truly supportive throughout her journey. Westberg is grateful for that support and the guidance of her teacher.
“Professor Marquez taught us the importance of having empathy in understanding that these are people, and you never really know what’s going on in their lives,” said Westberg. “He’s one of the best mentors I’ve ever had.”
The idea for the Military Justice Clinic was born when former Major Marquez was on active duty and working with law students on a capital murder case. He saw firsthand how students could both benefit a defense team and learn a great deal from exposure to the military criminal justice system. The clinic takes between three and five students per semester. To learn more about the work that the clinic does click here.
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