Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not-So-Simple Signs of Faith

Controversy has erupted within the ranks of the Criminal Justice System over the past week as it was brought to light that Criminal County Court at Law # 4 Judge John Clinton had apparently been mixing a bit of Church and State with some of his probationers.  The story landed on KHOU last night.  Both Mark Bennett and Paul Kennedy have done some very thoughtful and well articulated blog posts on the issue and I agree (in most part) with what they've written.

The issue seems simple enough on its face.

If a Judge is adding conditions that include reading a Christian-based book, it seems rather indisputable that he is no longer keeping Church and State separate, right?

Sure, a defendant on probation in Judge Clinton's court would probably love to read a book rather than do the manual labor of community service, but as Mark and Paul aptly point out, this could cause a whole host of side ramifications for people -- from the possibility of non-Christians having to do their community service manually because they don't wish to read the book or a non-Christian being forced to hide his true faith in order to get the book report as a probation assignment.  Clearly, this is prohibited under the Constitution and with good reason.

These issues were brought to the attention of Judge Clinton, who has agreed to not add those conditions to probation any longer.

Problem solved, right?  Apparently not.

Both Mark and Paul, who ironically both have the names of Apostles (and to my knowledge, there was no Murray the Baptist), have expanded on Judge Clinton's misstep by casting doubt on his ability to be a judge at all.  Mark points out:
"If the Judge is so unfamiliar with the First Amendment that this seemed okay to him until the judges' counsel told him otherwise, what hope is there in his court for the Fourth, the Fifth, or the Sixth?"
And Paul echoes the sentiments with:
"If a judge is going to be so cavalier as to ignore the First Amendment's prohibition of state-sponsored religion, how's he going to treat the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments?" 

Okay guys, let's not entirely freak out here.  I'm not here to get into a debate about how many wars have been waged in the name of religion or the potential for the End of the World if we still include the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, but are we really insinuating that because Judge Clinton let his religious beliefs bleed into a probation condition that he's going to be cool with violating all aspects of the Constitution?

Isn't that kind of akin to saying that each and every one of our shoplifting or DWI clients is inevitably going to turn into a serial killer?

We all believe in something.  Even if that is a firm belief in not believing.  And whether or not you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or whatever, your personal beliefs or lack-thereof affect every thing you do.

I'm not an outwardly religious person.  I have a tattoo of the Cross on my left arm and I've worn a Cross necklace around my neck pretty much since I was 16 years old.  They aren't fashion decisions for me .  They are just the simple signs of faith that mean something to me. I usually thumb through the Bible every morning looking for some inspiration, and I try to teach my little boy those things that I was taught as a child.

But I don't go to Church, and I usually find myself wanting to smoke a cigarette every time I read something in the newspaper about what is being said or done by certain religious organizations.  So, I'm kind of cross-brand version of Christian that nobody can really support, aren't I?  I'm not vocal enough for the Far Right, and I'm too entrenched in my beliefs for the Far Left.  My first ex-mother-in-law told me she was sure that I worshipped trees.

But the point being is that my beliefs filter into what I do every day.  If someone wants to talk to me about religion and their beliefs, I will gladly tell them why I believe.  If I think it will help somebody going through a rough time, I'll share moments of inspiration that I've had in my life.  And no, I'm not a Judge or any kind of government employee (any longer), but I tend to look at Judge Clinton's actions as something that should have been stopped, but nothing that should condemn him as a person or a Judge.

There are law libraries full of cases based on rulings saying that a Judge screwed up.  If every one of those Judges were suddenly deemed unqualified to be a Judge then there literally would be no Judges.

But we come out swinging hard against Judge Clinton because his decision crossed the line between Church and State and the protections of the First Amendment -- therefore, it is inevitable that he will probably violate all the Amendments that follow.

Give me a break.  Judge Clinton made a mistake of law that was a reflection on his belief in God.

You wouldn't be persecuting him just because of his choice in religion, would you?

Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin in response to this.  I'm already getting in duck and cover mode for what's bound to be coming from Rage.


Mark Bennett said...

You wouldn't be persecuting him just because of his choice in religion, would you?

I'd be asking the same questions about Clinton's intellectual fitness to judge if he were a Jew, a Muslim, a Taoist, or an atheist. From the guy sitting up high in the black dress, "you don't believe in God, do you?" would be just as offensive as "have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?"

You think Clinton's being persecuted? Get a grip.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Murray I agree with you. The Judge was wrong. But with that said what he was trying to do (as misdirected as it is) came from the right place. Being in this field for 14 years sometimes you get discouraged and you need faith in something. People standing before that Judge are sometimes at the lowest points of their lives I think he was just trying to help. I don't think the answer is to scrap him. Better to correct him.

Anonymous said...

Having attended a number of candidate events and heard the various candidates speaking publicly and privately, I am not surprised by Clinton's conduct. I am surprised it took so long.

Just Sayin' said...

Clinton is a nice enough fellow but unless one uses the Lykos competence scale,he is not remotely knowledgeable as to the very basic judicial duties of his position. I'm afraid with Clinton the 1st Amendment issue is just representative of, "I really wish I knew WTF I'm supposed to do".

However, even though Clinton's mind is not in the right place at least his heart is.......and that is what elevates him above Lykos.

BTW, I heard the presumptive #1 challenger to run against Lykos may have some very high profile lucrative opportunities that will preclude her from filing.
Any truth to those rumors?

Just Sayin'

Anonymous said...

Looks like Clinton had a "come to Jesus" meeting already.

Anonymous said...

A County Commissioner is in federal trial for bribery, and you are all flustered about this crap?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but how many juries has this guy paneled?

That's the real problem.

Anonymous said...

I miss you too...

I'm not a fan of Clinton's, but primarily because he was a mediocre personal injury lawyer for a long time and because he's far too entrenched with HPD to be impartial as a judge.

However, on this topic, while I don't think that just because he violated the first amendment he will automatically violate the others, I do think it says a lot about his intelligence that he thought that was acceptable. I mean, this is a clear no-brainer, and he boned it. What is he going to do when a close call comes up that requires real thinking?

That's all. I have yet to read what Mark and Jamie wrote, but based on Mark's post above it looks like he and I are of the same opinion. That his fitness is in doubt if he can't even get the easy ones right.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but how many juries has this guy paneled?

That's the real problem.

The real problem is when he starts wainscoting them. Or maybe wallpapering them.


Anonymous said...

On a side note, Bennett blanked out the offender's name on the Judgment he links in his blog, but not the name of the victim?

This ain't rocket surgery Bennett.

Anonymous said...

re:11:13 AM-

I agree with you 11:13 and so does most of the HCDA Office. We all wish she was in charge of Community Service instead of being DA. May I also suggest the Holiday be named Old Goat Day?

PS: We know you aren't Roger- he's trying to get the Hell away from her too!

Anonymous said...

I don't see the problem here: when you plead guilty you waive your fourth, fifth, and sixth amendment rights, so what's wrong with waiving your first amendment rights as well? If you don't like it, do your time. We mandate AA all the time and that's a religion.

I'm more concerned with his lack of knowledge of the rules of evidence and caselaw based on those constitutional rights.

Anonymous said...

Has Paul Kennedy every tried a case in Harris County? I have been practicing criminal law in Harris County since 1987 and I have never heard of the guy outside of his blog. At least Bennett has been in the courtroom with some regularity.

Anonymous said...

Has Paul Kennedy ever tried a case in Harris County? I have been practicing criminal law in Harris County since 1987 and I have never heard of the guy outside of his blog. At least Bennett has been in the courtroom with some regularity.

(Lest Rage gripe about a typo)

Anonymous said...

I tried a DWI against Paul Kennedy in Harris County. He was excellent.

What a sad replacement for Judge Anderson.

Anonymous said...

Im very proud of my religious views. Whenever anyone asks, I dont hestitate to be honest and tell them Im a follower of the Jedi faith.

Anonymous said...

9:41, I don't recall ever having griped about a typo. In fact, it's y'all who tend to focus on things other than what I'm saying. So, gripe about your ADA booty buddies.


Anonymous said...

We hold judges to a higher standard. He knew what he was doing but exhibited the typical "I don't give a sh*t, it's god's work" attitude that these people so often have.

Anonymous said...

"So, gripe about your ADA booty buddies."

Apparently Rage has heard of the edict that as of 1-1-2009 the entire sixth floor has been required to do "Greek".

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Murray, I know you must rec a ton of mail but maybe you'll remember the package containing a 10 pg. HPD Incident Report, 11” x 8 ½ “ HPD Police Photo,5-Five Discovery Motions w/(ORDERS) not being Agreed or Denied attached,2-Two State’s Exhibits docs. dated 7-Seven yrs. apart w/ 3-Three # 2’s w/ one being a .38 Rohm “Mystery” gun, Confirmation letters from the HCAP Dept. showing no connection to firearms while on probation, HPD & HC Evidence Rooms stating, “No records available” re: Chain of Custody or entry of a firearm in case, Letter on HC letter-head from Exhibit Clerk stating, “I personally destroyed it in 1995”, HC District Clerk’s Office confirmation that “No records available” re: where it was obtained from, where it was stored for 10 yrs., nor the Method & Location of its destruction.

(With questions asking, "Can they substitute a .38 with a 5 or 6 in barrel for an alleged .22 or .25 w/ a two in barrel?", Can they proceed in a jury trial despite Discovery Motions not being Agreed or Denied?", "Can Exhibit Clerks personally destroy firearms and leave no documentation re: Method & Location?”,” Can probationers have a firearm listed as a State's Exhibits and NOT receive any possession of a firearms while on probation charges or punishment?", "Can they create Two State's Exhibits docs. dated seven yrs. apart?"

Det. John Clinton, ADA Casey O’Brien, Judge Hearn, Exhibit Clerk Mel Vasques, Divorce & Will Attorney Danny R. Jackson are recorded in the case – While they all have professed their faith, none of them know where in the hell the “Mystery” gun came from or where it went to. Nor did it matter that Clinton allowed & enabled the crime victim to change descriptions. The gunman’s straight ‘Black’ hair & no mustache was allowed to be changed to straight ‘Brown’ hair with a mustache & the other person’s straight ‘Black’ hair was now straight ‘Blond’ hair. With HPD Photos showing a wavy light brown hair suspect with a mustache & one with short curly blond hair.

Q. What part of the Constitution would this apply to? Oh yea, I noticed there was a Bible in the courtroom & a shrine of religious artifacts in the Judge’s chambers that they documented as "Open Court". Thanks

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Mr. Griffith,

I actually don't receive any "snail mail" in association with the blog, and I have to tell you I honestly don't know what you are talking about other than what I saw you posted on Mark's blog.

I was a senior in college in 1995, so I wouldn't have had any dealings with the case you are talking about.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Let's see . . .

Jim Anderson leaves and what do three knotheads who ran screaming for his open bench have in common?

Janice Law, who (arguably) writes reading material. She had white gloves, but couldn't even find the ten-man search party.

Al Leal, who (notably) collects reading material. But just for the articles.

John Clinton, who (cluelessly) recommends reading material. If only he'd paid such attention to his textbooks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Murray, while you've moved on to other H.C. BS, I'll reply just the same. The package was mailed from the West End Church of Christ off of Washington Ave & Malone. Being in college in 95 has nothing to do with the answer(s) but of course you knew that.

I sent you copies because you are a former colleague of the rogue ADA of record (jigmeister) and you defended a portion of Clinton's actions here and elsewhere. Since then, the majority of questions have been answered. Thanks anyway.

BTW. The 10 page HPD Incident Report alone shows that he participated in criminal behavior while seeking and obtaining falsified felony charges with a goofy falsified positive identification that ‘he’ noticed and confronted the victim with, which goes to the character of the one some wish us to cut some slack in the name of…