Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The HB1804 Dismissal

Opponents of illegal immigration should not be cheering too loud at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma’s recent sua sponte dismissal of the constitutional challenge to HB 1804. Rather, we should all hold our breath and wait for round two which is bound to come and will be much more serious.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Payne carefully laid out the steps the plaintiffs must take to successfully present their claims. Their case was dismissed without prejudice. They now have a roadmap and an open invitation to return to the courthouse:

“The Court’s holding today does not close the courthouse door to those wishing to challenge the constitutional soundness of HB 1804. The Court’s holding is simply the recognition of the lesson learned through cases like Valley Forge: a proper constitutional vetting of any law cannot be achieved without the existence of a plaintiff that has actually been injured by the challenged law. While a constitutional vetting of HB 1804 would serve the interest of all parties to this litigation, the interest of the public would best be served by a sharpening of the issues presented prior to such a vetting.”

The second round of this litigation will likely be much nastier and the facts will be highly contested. The rhetoric spouted by some Latino activists about “ethnic cleansing in Oklahoma” will likely only get worse as well. I am afraid that as hard as Judge Payne may try to keep the discourse civil in his court room, that civility will not last much farther than the court house door and we are all in for a rocky time ahead.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The ORU Lawsuit

A lot of people have predicted for a long time that something like this would happen. However, the fact that it has should not be an excuse for schadenfreude on the part of either unbelievers who cheer when a Christian ministry is brought into disrepute or for the blood thirsty mob of wrong headed believers who cheer every time a high profile spiritual leader is brought down. Rather this should be a time for quiet introspection into our own lives to make sure that we have removed the beam from our own eyes before we begin working on the splinters in others. Most of us don’t own red Mercedes convertibles or large private jets but we can sin just as easily in our dowdy little sedans and coach seats if our hearts aren’t in the right place.

If the allegations against the Roberts’ are proven true, they are devastating. The fact that they have been filed in a lawsuit means nothing. All that means is that there is enough possible evidence to prevent the filing attorney from facing a Rule Eleven charge. This is a very low standard. We should all take a deep breath and remember that in America, even in civil court, the accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. By law, the Robert’s enjoy the benefit of the doubt at this stage of the proceedings.

I have an opinion about the allegations based upon my own observations over the years but I am keeping it to myself. I am not a member of the ORU Board of Regents, an attorney on the case or a member of one of the investigating organizations. So, I am in no place scripturally to hear or repeat an accusation against this particular elder. Further, even if this were not the case, for the sake of the many good people connected with the Roberts family, ORU and the Roberts Ministries, I will not add to their problems during this terrible time by repeating rumor, gossip and speculation.

It is a shame that this matter had to be resolved in the courts. Over the years, during my service in the local Christian community, I have had occasion to try to bring serious Christian misbehavior to the attention of a person’s pastor, church elders or other spiritual overseer ... everything from the garden variety slander that is common among Christian busybodies right up through child snatching, perjury and abuse of legal process. Trying to invoke church discipline to resolve matters of this magnitude is an exercise in futility. As one high profile local pastor recently observed, the Old Testament required that priests not have damaged stones. He continued that the problem today is that many pastors stones aren’t damaged, they just don’t have a set at all.

And that, in the end, is the real problem. The scriptures tell us to handle these things privately and to make them public only if all else fails. The real failure here may not be on the part of the Roberts who are taking the heat right now but rather on the part of the Regents and the high profile spiritual leaders who could and should have reigned them in quietly in a scriptural manner and did not.

It is very possible that judgment day is coming to 7777 S. Lewis Ave. in the near future. But, we should all be fearfully reverent if it does, because when God’s judgment falls, He will be just and He may well settle accounts with a lot of people, not just the Roberts. And, whether the allegations are true or not, we should not allow ourselves to sin in this matter by gossiping, carrying tales, railing, and improperly judging, thus bringing the gospel into further disrepute.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Short Essay on the Death Penalty

I have been accused of being schizophrenic on the subject of the death penalty.

I earnestly believe that the death penalty is just and even required by scripture for certain crimes. But, I also believe with equal fervor that the death penalty must be enforced within the same evidentiary and procedural limitations as presented in the scriptures.

What does this mean? First, it means that no one should be executed on the word of one witness. There must be two or more eye witnesses for the death penalty conviction to stick. In modern cases, you could have dozens of eye witnesses where, as in the recent trooper killing death sentence that was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the whole court room saw video and heard audio tape of the killing.

But second, and perhaps more important, the witnesses must be subject to the same penalty as the accused if they perjure themselves. This would mean that a jail house snitch that rats out his cellmate for a walk on other charges could be executed if he got caught at it. A remarkable number of convictions are obtained by coercing other suspects into testifying against someone who may be totally innocent in return for a lighter sentence or a walk on charges against them. God apparently does not care for snitches. The Biblical rule is straightforward. If you falsely accuse your neighbor, you are liable for the same penalty he would have incurred had he been wrongfully convicted.

I have very little respect for Barry Schenk's position on social issues such as the right to die. But, you have to give him credit for his work with the Innocence Project. Again and again, as happened in the Williamson/Fritz cases, they are proving with irrefutable DNA evidence that American courts and juries get it wrong as often as one time out of three in capital cases.

So as a Christian who serves a God who demands justice be served by his people, how can I not be of two minds about a justice system that rightfully demands the death penalty for some crimes but may be killing one innocent person for every three executed?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Grisham Suit

Some things could only happen in Oklahoma. The prosecutor and investigator that were described in John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" have sued Grisham, Doubleday, Barry Schenck, and several others for allegedly conspiring to defame them by writing books and giving speeches about their conduct in the now infamous State v. Williamson and Fritz cases.

Fritz and Williamson were convicted of first degree murder but later found innocent by means of DNA evidence through the work of the Innocence Project. They came within
days of being executed. The experience is alleged to have exacerbated Ron Williamson's mental and physical problems. Williamson died shortly after being exonerated.

For Grisham, Schenck and Doubleday this suit will probably be at best a costly annoyance. However, for the less successful authors and others involved, the lawsuit may silence what could have been the most probing look into the Oklahoma justice system since former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice William A. Berry's "Justice for Sale" described the 1960's Oklahoma Supreme Court Scandal.

Further complicating the Grisham case is the fact that under Oklahoma ethical rules , it can be a very dangerous matter for an attorney to suggest that there may be a problem at the courthouse. I have great respect for Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala who observed:

The court’s pronouncement imposes upon a licensed Oklahoma legal practitioner the affirmative duty to stand "four square" for the purity of criminal law enforcement process and to whitewash it even when a doubt may exist. The lawyer is forced affirmatively to assert that all is well with the prosecutorial service; he is free neither to suspect nor to be apprehensive that, in fact, things are not so well. Implicit in the expected affirmations is the disturbing notion that lawyers must serve as enthusiastic cheerleaders for the government. I view § 22 as commanding the government to maintain the very same neutrality that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be embodied in the First Amendment’s protection of free expression.7 Had respondent been vocally denying the possibility of any corruption in the prosecutor’s office, no disciplinary action would likely have followed and this case would not have been called to our attention.

¶4 By counseling the court that respondent’s comments are indeed shielded, I do not mean to condone his failure affirmatively to state that he would not participate in any improper action. What I emphatically and firmly advance is that professional discipline should not be invoked to chill free speech. Today’s opinion places a higher burden on a practitioner than any licensed legal professional may be required to bear in the constitutional order of our free society.

¶5 Lawyers are not government mouthpieces to be programmed for incantation of an absolution mantra that will sanctify officialdom in power.8 The court’s pronouncement reduces them to the very same status they were forced to endure in the most repressive totalitarian regimes of yesteryear’s Europe. I cannot countenance a decisional [29 P.3d 558] course that turns the Bar into mindless champions for government-dictated orthodoxy.

State ex. rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n. v. Erickson, 2001 OK 66

The Grisham suit will go a long way toward clarifying some very troubling questions about what happens when light is introduced into the dark corners of the courthouse. Only time and a Federal Judge in a remote little District in Eastern Oklahoma will tell what the result will be .