Legal Eagle

Northeast Philadelphia native Amanda McHugh, CLA ’13, LAW ’17, went from waiting tables to help pay for college at Temple to a Chief of Military Justice for the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.

Amanda McHugh on the campus of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Photo credit: Ryan S. Brandenberg CLA ’14

Project runway 

Upon graduating from Philadelphia’s Central High School, McHugh chose Temple for its affordability. The university offered merit-based academic scholarships and the opportunity to commute from home and hold full-time jobs waitressing and bartending.

McHugh always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, and pursued a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to build foundational knowledge. The decision paid off during her senior year, when McHugh participated in the College of Liberal Arts’ Inside-Out Exchange Program, which brings students into prisons to study criminal justice policy side-by-side with incarcerated citizens. Through the extraordinary opportunity, McHugh says she gained valuable perspective.

While policy sparked her interest, it was debate that whet her appetite for courtroom clashes. After deciding to attend Temple’s Beasley School of Law on the strength of its Trial Advocacy program, McHugh joined the Moot Court and Trial Teams, which both involve mock trials with other law schools. McHugh made the team, started traveling to competitions and excelled.

Courtroom landing 

Founded in 1775, the JAG Corps is a military branch that adjudicates military law—and where McHugh has made herself a career post-graduation. 

After serving for two years in her current JAG position at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, McHugh was assigned in August 2020 to the 316th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, with new responsibilities.

“It’s a joint base with a worldwide mission,” McHugh said, noting the wing supports tens of thousands of airmen and also serves as the hub for Air Force One. “I’m responsible for ensuring that all justice is administered appropriately within the wing.”

Amanda at a glance

Fly, eagle, fly

In the military, justice can take many forms, from simple documentation of misconduct to an “adverse action” for small infractions like a traffic ticket, up to the potential removal from service. McHugh’s job is to make sure it all runs smoothly and on schedule—no easy task when some personnel are deployed overseas.

“The military doesn’t have standing courts,” McHugh said. “We establish them on an as-needed basis wherever and whenever that need arises, whether that means stateside or downrange.”

That means finding a court reporter, a bailiff and even a judge, and potentially flying them halfway across the world. It takes tremendous attention to detail and daily drive to juggle all that administration, but those are traits McHugh has in spades.

One day, McHugh hopes to argue in appellate courts, but for now, McHugh says she’s proud to be serving the nation as a JAG. 

“I’m so competitive,” McHugh said. “I like arguing in front of people. I like convincing someone with facts and evidence. I like convincing them that my position is the only position. And it’s very, very gratifying when that person or people agree in the form of a verdict.”

—By Kyle Bagenstose, KLN ’11, and Samara Grossel, KLN ’17