Tuesday 17 November 2009

Here comes the judge

A lovely story which reminds me of my first acquaintance with Christian anarchism in present day Europe, the Ploughshares Movement - a judge who showed respect for the motivation of the axe man. Rare, but not impossible.

- On Wednesday, November 4, 2009 the Omaha and Des Moines
Catholic Worker communities and friends held our fourth annual protest
and ‘Die In” at the Qwest Center in Omaha at SRATCom’s Space Weapons
Bazaar called the Strategic Space Symposium in Omaha NE, Nov 2-4.
The effort began with a group of over 30 people gathered across the
street from the main entrance of the Qwest Center at 11 a.m. We moved
in mass across the street to the main entrance, set up our “Space
Weapons = Death” banner. We gathered around the banner and read of our
statement. (See a copy of the statement below.)
After the statement was read a number of people, including the 8 who were arrested laid down on the ground in front of the banner, enacting a “Die-In”.

After 5 minutes people were called to their feet and directed to take the “Die-In” into the Qwest Center where the Space Weapons Bazaar was taking place.  The protesters were stopped just inside the front doors by Qwest security people and Omaha police officers. The protesters proceeded to reenact their “Die-In” just inside the building at the feet of the security people and police.  Our statement was reread.
Qwest security people informed all protesters to leave the building or face arrested. All but eight people left the building. Each of the eight was asked by an Omaha police officer to leave the building or face arrest.  All eight were place under arrest, hand cuffed and walked out the of the building into a police van or police car.

Among the eight people arrested was 91-year-old Peg Gallagher, “Grand
Dame of the Omaha Peace Movement”. Peg was ticketed and released right
on site. The seven other people who were arrested were taken to the
Douglas Co Jail, processed by the police and charged with City of Omaha ordinance “20-155 Request to Leave” - a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a five hundred dollar fine.  The seven were:
Fr. Jack McCaslin, 80, Omaha, NE
Mark Kenny, 52, Omaha, NE
Daniel McCarville, 22, Omaha, NE
Friar Louis Vitale, OFM, 77, Oakland, CA
Fr. Jim Murphy, 55
Steve Clemens, 59, Minneapolis, MN
Frank Cordaro, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker, Des Moines, IA
The four Omaha residents were cited and release and given a Dec 9th



Amazing Day in Court!

By Frank Cordaro, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Nov 5, 2009
The four out of state “Space Weapons Bazaar” protesters who were 
arrested Wed. Nov 4th at the Qwest Center in Omaha spent the night at 
the Douglas County Jail. We were Fr. Louis Vitale of CA, Fr. Jim 
Murphy of WI, Steve Clemens of MN and me Frank Cordaro of IA. We were 
all charged with a City of Omaha ordinance “20-155 Request to Leave” a 
misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of six months in jail 
and/or a five hundred dollar fine.

On Wed Nov 5th we appeared before Judge Darryl Lowe in what is called 
”jail court” with sixty other Douglas Co Jail inmates at 1:30 p.m. for 
what turned out to be the most entertaining and perplexing two hours I 
have ever spent in a court room.

Jail courts are the places where people who get arrested and booked 
into county jails, and do not bond out, get to see a judge for the 
first time. This is the time when most inmates can plead guilty or 
innocent, be assigned a court appointed attorney and have their bail 
reviewed. The vast majority of inmates who appear in these jail courts 
are poor and people of color. Ninety percent plead guilty, knowing 
”you get the justice you can afford” in this country and if you’re 
poor, you’re better off pleading guilty and doing the time up front 
than pleading innocent and doing more time awaiting trial, a trial in 
all likelihood you would end up losing whether you are innocent or 
not. It’s not a pretty picture to watch. It’s often done with out 
feelings or human concerns for those being judge.

This time it was different. The officer who talked to the sixty of us 
before we were lead into court told us that Judge Lowe is a very 
different kind of judge. “He’s liable to ask you the strangest of 
questions.” The officer was not wrong. In the two hours we spent 
before Judge Lowe he made inappropriate comments, 
asked questions way beyond the scope of his professional obligation 
as a judge, and delved into people’s personal non-legal issues.

Yet Judge 
Lowe was also one of the most caring and humane judges I have ever 
seen work from the bench. Beyond his extremely large public, 
entertaining ego, he showed real concern for the people who stood 
before him. For those who plead guilty, he went to great efforts to 
find a sentence that really matched what the inmate needed in order to 
make right for the crime committed and help them get their lives back 
together. Judge Lowe meted out justice that day unlike I have ever 
witnessed in a court of law. It was justice with a heart.

Before the court session started Judge Lowe made some introductory 
remarks. Among them was his admonition that people take personal 
responsibility for their alleged activities. “If you are innocent, 
plead innocent and if you are guilty plead guilty. And if you plead 
’no contest’ you better have a good reason cuz I don’t take lightly to 
people who are just trying to not take responsibility for their 
As the two hour session was coming to a close it was clear the judge 
was speeding up his pace, wanting to be done by 3:30 p.m. The order of 
the cases was presented to him from the most serious to the least 
serious. We four protesters were the last four cases of the day. We 
were all in our orange jail-issued outfits.  By the time Fr Louis 
Vitale was called to the bench we were the only ones left in the court 
room, with the judge, the prosecutor, the two court recorders and the 
four jail police officers.
As Fr Louis approached the bench the 
prosecutor told the judge that the last four of us were all here from 
the same charge and that the arrest took place at the Qwest Center the 
day before. Judge Lowe did not even look at any of the paper work. He 
talked about his being at the Qwest Center on many occasions for 
concerts and basketball games. That was all he needed to know. Judge 
Lowe asked Fr Louis “What do you plea?”

“No contest,” said Fr Louis.
And before Fr Louis could say anything else Judge Lowe said, “Five 
days!” and pounding his gavel saying, “If you had plead guilty it 
would have been three days. Next.”
Fr Louis was dumbfounded. He tried to explain to the judge that all he 
wanted to do was make his plea and ask that the sentencing be 
postponed until the four local Omaha people went to trial. Fr Louis 
needed to be on a plane Saturday morning for a speaking engagement and 
Mass obligations Sunday. A five day sentence would make it impossible 
for him to make his commitments. Judge Lowe would hear none of it. He 
pounded his gavel and told Fr Louis if he wanted to appeal the 
sentence he would have to come up with a $100,000 bond! “Next,” shouted 
the Judge Lowe as the guards led Fr Louis out of the court room.

Fr Jim Murphy approached the bench. And Judge Lowe asked him “What do 
you plead?”
“No contest” said Fr Jim, and then he immediately changed his plea to “Guilty!”
“Three days” said Judge Lowe pounding his gavel. “Next!” shouted Judge 
Lowe as Fr Jim was lead out of the court room.

Steve Clemens approached the bench. By this time everyone had a chance 
to catch their breath. Judge Lowe finally asked Steve, “What were you 
guys doing at the Qwest Center in the first place?” Judge Lowe just 
assumed the four of us were arrested for intoxication. He just thought 
we were four old drunks.

Steve said, “Your honor, we were there to protest the Strategic Space 
Symposium. We were there to protest the selling of space weapons 
technology to STRATCom!”
And from the inmate sitting area, I shouted out to the judge, “And you 
just sentenced two Catholic priests to jail!”

“Catholic priest! Protest!” exclaimed Judge Lowe as the blood went out 
of his face, “Bring those two priests back before me. Give me their 
files.” The judge asks me to join them all at the bench. We explained 
to him what our nonviolent protest was all about. He congratulated us 
for our witness. He said he believed in nonviolent civil disobedience. 
He said more of it needed to be done. He told us his father was active 
in the civil rights movement in the south. He added, “of course I was 
only four years old at the time.”  He shook each one of our hands.  Fr 
Louis knelt down with his hands raised in prayer and thank God for the 
Judge’s change of heart.

We were all sentenced to time served, given a pat on the back and in 
essence told ‘Job well done good and faithful servants! He ended the 
session by saying “I hope you all come back again next year!”
I have never ever been treated so well. Justice, not necessarily the 
Law was served that day in the Douglas County Jail.