U.S. Marine Corps honors Elon Law graduate

Major Nathan Campbell Thomas L’15 was named Trial Counsel of the Year for 2020 for his work in prosecuting Marines accused of violent crimes, including defendants in the high-profile death of an American contractor in Iraq.

Major Nathan Campbell Thomas L’15 of the United States Marine Corps

An Elon Law graduate earned a top award from the U.S. Marine Corps for his lead role last year in the prosecution of complex cases that in several instances involved military personnel accused of crimes such as manslaughter and sexual assault.

Major Nathan Campbell Thomas L’15 — described by his commanding officer as a remarkable leader and extraordinarily talented litigator — was named Trial Counsel of the Year for 2020 by the Judge Advocate Division of the United States Marine Corps.

Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Thomas was recognized for “professionalism, dedication, and litigation skills that resulted in successful outcomes at all levels of disposition, from complex felony contested trials to boards of inquiry and administrative hearings.”

Among the cases Thomas was assigned: the prosecution of two Marines and a Navy corpsman accused of manslaughter in the New Year’s Day 2019 death of an American contractor in Iraq.

In any given year, anywhere from 75-100 officers are eligible for the award, depending on the number of active-duty attorneys in the Judge Advocate Division.

“The people who have won this award? I never felt like I measured up to them!” Thomas said. “I’m also humbled and certainly very thankful and appreciative of the Marines who have assisted me. All of our administrative support comes from enlisted Marines who just happen to be assigned to legal services. I feel very blessed and very flattered.”

Thomas was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon his 2007 graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2012, he was accepted into a legal education program that takes officers with fleet experience and develops them into lawyers. While at Elon Law, he reported for duty at Camp Lejeune each summer to begin learning the protocols that define his responsibilities as a military lawyer.

His commanding officer offers nothing but praise for Thomas. Lt. Col. Troy Campbell said that Thomas certainly distinguishes himself in the courtroom, but he gives just as much time and attention to mentoring junior trial counsel.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 restrictions placed on litigation efforts across the entire military justice system, Major Thomas prosecuted nine general courts-martial and a special court-martial through completion, and also served as the “recorder” for a highly-contested senior officer’s board of inquiry,” Campbell said. “Without his remarkable efforts, these significant cases would have become stagnant, in direct contradiction to the purpose of military law — promoting efficiency and effectiveness in the military establishment.”

Thomas today lives with his wife, Wendy, in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where he enjoys biking, motorcycling, and surf fishing when not at work. He recently shared fond memories of his time at Elon Law and how faculty and experiences prepared him for professional success.

“I had great opportunities at Elon Law on the trial advocacy team and taking as many criminal law courses that I could,” Thomas said. “I certainly felt that I got as much as I could out of law school and had the benefit of knowing that while you can’t choose what you do in the Marine Corps, if you’re a JAG, you can bet that you’ll have courtroom time. I prepared for that.”