Monday, June 30, 2008

OBA General Counsel Arrested

Shockwaves are running through the Oklahoma legal community today after it was revealed that Oklahoma Bar Association General Counsel Dan Murdock was arrested for sexual battery Saturday night in Oklahoma City. The story is being reported by local Oklahoma City media.

First, the fact that he has been arrested does not mean that he is guilty. It only means that an allegation has arisen sufficient for the officer to make an arrest.

Second, over the years Dan Murdock has, by virtue of his position as chief ethics enforcer of the OBA, ticked a lot of people off. The very fact that the recent Gassaway disbarment was mentioned in news reports of his arrest brings this fact into sharp focus and sets up the suspicion at least of a set up.

And third, lawyers and judges are particularly vulnerable to this type of incident. The very fact that a charge has been filed can ruin a career regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused. In the minds of many, the fact that an accusation has been lodged is proof of its veracity regardless of the facts. Sadly, I advise my minister clients to never let themselves be alone in the same room with a woman not their wife or a minor just because of the frequency of this type of accusation.

The traditional strategy in cases like this has always been for the accused to let the system work and refuse to give their accusers credibility by responding to them. But, in this age of instant communications and cyber-lynching that strategy does not always work. Some public figures are fighting back. The classic example of this is local Judge Jesse Harris who just filed a libel suit against his accusers in a similar case.

The real problem here is that by mere proximity to dangerous and vindictive people, attorneys and judges open themselves up to this type of charge. Mere proximity to a misguided or dangerous person can open a public figure up to all sorts of mischief. False allegations of sexual misconduct are becoming the weapon of choice by some misguided folks these days.

Dan Murdock has practiced law for decades in Oklahoma. He has a good reputation both in the bar and with the public. He has a lot of friends and probably, because of his service as ethics prosecutor for the bar association, a lot of enemies. I don't know if he did it or not. I am comfortable waiting to see what the courts decide. I just hope that he isn't tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion before a verdict is reached based on the facts of the case.


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