Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm a (true) believer

A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, and shall not knowingly permit staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control to do so.
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3(b)(6)

Oh, Murray, Murray, Murray.

Don't speak so quickly. Have you forgotten that there was a Thirteenth Apostle (the Christian equivalent of George Best, I suppose)? I'm sure if we look long and hard enough that somewhere we'll find a testament written by some guy named Murray claiming to be that long lost apostle. Maybe that's who wrote the alleged Christian texts found in a Jordanian cave between 2005 and 2007.

(By the way, Murray, I liked the old layout better. I'm getting older and it hurts my eyes. There's always Google Reader, though.)

Another Houston colleague, Eric Davis, chimed in with a defense of Judge Clinton's using the bench as a pulpit. I understand what the judge gave as his motivation to offer "Jesus time" in lieu of community service. There are too many judges out there who just line up defendants and bring out on the chain for a mass plea (about how you'd expect the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to do it if he were a judge and not a huckster whatever he is). The problem though is that Judge Clinton was imposing a religious test in determining a person's sentence. And that, no matter how "divine" the intention, is just plain wrong.

Wiping out eight hours of community service in exchange for a person writing an essay about what it means to be on probation? Excellent idea. Discussing Jesus over coffee in exchange for wiping out the rest? Not so good.

This idea that having someone read a Christian self-help book will help them turn their lives around is fairly laughable when you stop to consider that some of history's greatest mass murderers were "God-fearing" men and that the Catholic Church conspired to cover up the world's largest child molestation ring. Just because you accept Jesus Christ as your savior or because you've completed a bunch of workbooks in Sunday school doesn't mean you're a saint. And, conversely, just because you're not a Christian (which I guess would be the majority of our fellow denizens of the earth), doesn't mean you're bad.

And just what is the message in Judge Clinton's book?

The origin of all problems–family, finances, career, relationships – can all be traced back to a single source: life-dominating sin. No human remedy can cure it. But everyone can find victory over sin in the Word of God.

Yes, you can also have victory over life-dominating sin, based on two biblical principles remarkable in their simplicity:
  1. There is no human remedy for sin.
  2. The only cure for sin is in Christ.
So, unless you subscribe to these principles, you can never achieve "victory over life-dominating sin." In other words, "I'm right and you're wrong."

Mark Bennett got it right when he looked at it from the perspective of the folks who didn't get offered the "I'm a Believer" discount. I don't think either of us is being alarmist when we ask whether the 4th, 5th or 6th Amendments are safe in Judge Clinton's courtroom.

This isn't a religious debate. I'm all for whatever people need to get through each day. I happen to prefer to lace up my running shoes and run around the neighborhood before the sun rises - but that ain't for everyone.

During the course of a meeting of the board of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association yesterday (called for the purpose of deciding what action, if any, to take regarding this incident), a member (who had spoken to Judge Clinton at the behest of the president) decided it would be a good idea to bring his new buddy, the judge, to the meeting.

And there he was, wearing a suit with a huge cross lapel pin. A true believer. The judge said he asked selected probationers if they were men of faith. He then asked if they were Christians. If he got the answers he was looking for, he offered them some "Jesus time" instead of community service. How could he not know that wasn't right?

In the end the leadership of HCCLA tucked its collective tail between its legs and decided not to do anything. Something about massaging the judge instead of stepping on him.

Said Stanley Schneider, past president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association:
“I think this is a man that we really need to get behind. Anyone who wants to take the innovative, and trying to do something to help people in his courtroom to succeed in life, he’s someone we need to applaud.”
Dottie Griffith of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (who filed a complaint against Judge Clinton) had a slightly different take:
“The idea that a judge would use the power of the bench to coerce individuals appearing before him into accepting his religious beliefs offends the Constitution and should offend all Houstonians. If true, Judge Clinton’s actions are patently illegal.”
See also:

"Judge's sentence involving Christian book causes controversy," KHOU-TV (3/28/2011)
"Reading lesson for cons was Christian book," Houston Chronicle (3/29/2011)


Murray Newman said...

I think you missed my point, my friend.

I think that Judge Clinton's decision on the probation was clearly a violation of Church & State, but I don't think that means we need to verbally follow him home and egg his house. He messed up and he's acknowledged that mistake.

As to the layout issue, I was very attached to the old layout, but I was having a hard time reading it. I'm getting old (although I'm SIGNIFICANTLY younger than you. I wondered if people would dislike it, but I thought it made for easier reading.

Murray the Baptist (actually Methodist, originally)

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for you comments, Murray.

I guess how one comes out on this issue is whether one believes this incident was an aberration or believes this incident is a sign of things to come.

Given Clinton's background and his desire to be a judge - and not just any judge, but a criminal judge - I can't just look away. Remember what Bennett often says "Those who want to be judges aren't qualified to be a judge."

Clinton chose to run for a vacant criminal bench (with no criminal law experience) because it was the one bench he thought he could win.

BTW, I like the little Easter reference you threw in there ("egg his house) - classic.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Mr. Kennedy, Murray wants everyone to let it go and cut him some slack. "He messed up and he's acknowledged that mistake." Hmmm? Was that publically?

In my 1998 & 2002 pursuits of the elusive Full Pardon - for innocence, he refused to acknowledge or defend his well documented role in the 10 page HPD Incident Report #012140584R. In lieu of Letters of Recommendation he chose to let Jesus deal with it.

I have to ask, what type of violation is it considered when a 10 page report is (drafted in a strange step-by-step fly on the wall perspective) outline listing the; names, titles & badge numbers of HPD Robbery Detectives & supervisors’ as they conduct a warped Live Show-Up (w/ 17 to 31 yr. olds), immediately seek felony charges with obvious falsified positive identifications, confront and assist a very confused crime victim by allowing him to re-submit his weird description(s) of suspects he just viewed. Despite the answer, Subjects Arrested and Charged. Case Cleared. Thanks.

*Like always, have plenty copies for the asking. If anyone can show me the page and paragraph that proves Mr. John W. Clinton didn’t knowingly & willingly participate in criminal behavior in his endeavors to seek and obtain felony charges, I’ll eat that page live on Skype.