Praise the Lord (and Get Out Early)

I haven’t written anything mean about the Republic of Texas in a while. That stops now.

It seems that a judge down yonder named Clinton has come up with an easy way for defendants to cut some time off their sentence.  Via Mark Bennett :

Judge [John] Clinton, who has been on the bench since January, has been asking probationers if Jesus was their savior;** if they do has been offering them credit for sixteen hours toward their community service for reading a Christian religious tract: this Christian self-help book, to be specific.

Bennett notes that a story like this might seem a bit strange if “you’re not from ’round these parts.”  Strange doesn’t begin to cover it, frankly.   Paul Kennedy calls it “just plain wrong.”  Yet another Houston defense lawyer, Eric Davis, doesn’t see a problem.

By his own acknowledgment, he was trying to help people. He expressed frustration at seeing young defendants turn down probation, which would help them avoid a conviction, in favor of a conviction and a fine. 

No doubt, this action appears to violate the first amendment’s prohibition of government establishing religion. But it is not violative of the fifth or sixth amendments, neither or which say anything about religion. There is no phrase “separation of church and state” in the Constitution. Government is only prohibited from establishing religion and from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Further, the Constitution specifically limits “Congress,” not the courts.

Eric is right, it wasn’t the worst thing that’s every happened in a courtroom.  It was likely well-intended.  The judge relented and apologized for inserting religion into the performance of a secular function.  And it was Jesus, for crying out loud.  It’s not like it was Mohammed or Buddha or something.  Sheesh.

Murray Newman (who apparently is not an orthodox Jew despite his appearance), agrees that Judge Clinton was wrong, but takes issue with Bennett and Kennedy extrapolating from his ignorance about the First Amendment to the Constitution that he might be less than adequately familiar with a few of the others.

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?”
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?

Well, let’s consider that argument. No.  No it’s not the same.  The issue isn’t whether ignorance of the First Amendment is the gateway to total Bill of Rights failure, but rather whether a person educated in the law, then sworn to uphold the Constitution, can so completely misunderstand a part and yet be presumed fully cognizant of the rest of it.  No, this was not a gateway drug. 

But this whole megillah was largely a matter of making a mountain out of a Texas molehill, since judges having boneheads in Texas is neither particularly unusual nor a problem for a large swathe of the electorate.  It wasn’t until  this comment by Thomas Griffith that this matter grew legs.

Mr. B., good morning. He must have jumped ship – because in 1984 he worked for the Devil. When I met Mr. John W. Clinton Employee #055725 on 03/02/84 (Friday) around 10:00 AM as he conducted a Show-up at Station #4725. HPD Incident Report page 2.007 shows he worked the back and page 2.008 shows he willingly ‘worked’ the Show-Up. As Satan’s lil helper, he knowingly picked a 31 year old & a 27 year old to stand next to two 20-year-old suspects. The Show-Up consisted of (5) five people, which leaves one 5’ 07 17 year old.

On page 2.009, he is shown rightfully confronting the crime victim after a “positive’ identification was made on myself as the gunman where he mentioned the Report having ‘Black’ haired suspects. He allowed the crime victim an opportunity to change his Original description(s) where the gunman’s straight ‘Black’ hair & no mustache was changed to straight ‘Brown’ hair & the other person’s straight ‘Black’ hair was now straight ‘Blond’ hair.

Those keeping track of description(s) should know that I had wavy light brown hair and a mustache. The person test-driving my father’s vehicle had short blond curly hair. Despite these gross descrepentcies being caught by Mr. Clinton, despite his attempt to do the “Right’ thing, page 2.007 (last paragraph) shows that he had already “called the DA’s Intake and talked to the DA and told him about the line-up and the DA stated he would take charges.”

Detective turned Lawyer/Attorney turned Judge and now at some point he embraced Christianity in which he forced fed inmates Bible lessons hoping for better or lighter probation. I call bull-shit on the bayou and the hypocrite in #4. Thanks.

Now that’s an epiphany.  I wonder how many bible books detective turned lawyer turned judge John Clinton will have to read to make amends? 

Thanks for clearing things up about Judge Clinton’s religion, Mr. Griffith.

18 thoughts on “Praise the Lord (and Get Out Early)

  1. Alex Bunin

    I appreciate your interst in Harris County. It is colorful here. However, as someone who has practiced in far-flung places, I know that judicial ecccentricity is not regional. I recall one judge in Troy, New York who occasionally entered guilty pleas for defendants without their consent or knowledge.

  2. SHG

    Troy?  Troy?  I didn’t say that the rest of the nation was invariably sane, but Troy?

    Afterthought: You’re talking about one of those non-lawyer judges in the hinterlands where there are more cows than people, right?  I hope.

  3. Sojourner

    Mr. Bunin has the same name as the head of the Harris County Public Defender Office. (And the same last name as a Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate.) I do wish the gentleman well with his mission. He has his work cut out for him.

    That said, it’s a helluva lot more than colorful here. Bullshit on the bayou is being diplomatic. Ignorance is a time-honored defense which usually means you can get away with anything if you’re a police officer, a judge, or a government official misusing public money.

    This is because good old boys are often stupid and it’s considered bad manners to speak your mind. The friendly face of fascism.

    I’m horrified by the judge’s actions.

  4. Jeff Gamso

    I’ve got my own Judge Clinton stories from my days in Texas (though it was a different Judge Clinton). And while there’s nutsiness and incompetence and stupidity and downright cruelty on the bench everywhere, Texas does have a special sort of charm.

    As the tourist folk used to say, it’s a whole ‘nother country.

  5. Alex Bunin

    No, this was elected lawyer and a County bench, not a town judge. Read “Ordinary Injustice” by Amy Bach (Metropolitan Books 2009) for the long version. It gets worse.

  6. Alex Bunin

    I have two adopted African-American sisters who are also Bunins. So there goes that theory.

  7. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, I applied for a Regular Full Pardon & a Full Pardon-for innocence thinking that the HPD Incident Report alone would seal the deal. Turns out that the innocent are required to state how they have been rehabilitated & have to obtain unanimous letters of recommendation from the three trial officials that took part in the Texas Railroad.

    Denied consideration with one vote & since the three (Court, Sheriff & DA) failed to agree that the paperwork shows that they conspired, I didn’t qualify for the ‘for innocence’ pardon. I re-applied a year later for the Regular Full Pardon and was denied again. The old CYA in the Board of Pardons & Paroles trick.

    Disgusted with the Texas Criminal Justice System, rules allowing Divorce & Will specialist to take felony cases, our ignorant taxpayers and goofy voters that fund and enable Texas’s vast corruption network lead to the creation of PNG.

    In lieu of a Pardon, telling the world at large lead to me to “Defending People” & “Simple Justice”, where two ‘real’ Criminal Defense Attorneys/Lawyers on opposite sides of the planet graciously allowed me to post. Going above and beyond by taking time to answer questions long ignored by everyone and I mean everyone.

    *Today’s Q. – Knowing he’s a Judge (with years of trial experience),(that all the sudden just wants to help people avoid a conviction) – I ask, should a ‘victim of the system’ (myself) take my box of documents to his office and request his help in clearing my name or take it to the Judges that spanked him for thinking outside the bench (box)? Thanks again.

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