TACOMA, Wash. - A federal judge says the Air Force violated the rights of a highly decorated flight nurse when it discharged her for homosexual conduct under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
In a highly anticipated ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton said former Maj. Margaret Witt. Witt should be reinstated at the earliest possible moment.
In 2008, a federal appeals court panel ruled in her case that the military can't discharge people for being gay unless it proves their firing furthered military goals.
After a six-day trial, the judge said testimony proved that Witt was an outstanding nurse and that her reinstatement would do nothing to hurt unit morale.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. All I’ve ever wanted to do is go back to my unit and do my job," said Witt following the judge's ruling.
Her attorney hopes to have her reinstated within a matter of weeks, regardless of any appeals the military may file.
When asked if she thought her case may help overturn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Witt said, “I can only hope.”
Legal experts say that likely won't happen soon.
"The judge could stay his ruling. It could be appealed back to the 9th Circuit Court. It could be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Under those circumstances, it could literally take years for Margaret Witt's ruling to have any chance or impact on the military whatsoever," said attorney Jeffrey Lustick.
The Air Force can appeal the decision, but Witt's attorney says he still should be able to have her reinstated within weeks. Once that happens, it would mark the first time a judge has ordered the military to allow an openly-gay member to serve.