Thursday, February 23, 2006

Let's not blame the lawyer

About a month ago, I blogged on the sanctions awarded against local attorney James Donohoo for pursuing a defamtation case against a pastor who was publicly said to have called for, or at least to have made sport of, the shooting of gays. Based on news reports, it seemed to me like Donohoo should not have brought the case, but that sanctioning him for it seemed a bit unusual given the general reluctance, on to adamant refusal, of most judges with respect to sanctions.

Shortly after that, Atty. Donohoo was provided some additional information to me (and to Jessica McBride who also blogged on this) which makes me less critical of his case and more concerned about the sanctions. I have been meaning to post on it and the recent report by the Spice Boys that the defendants lawyers have attached his bank account gives me an excuse.

According to Donohoo, his client did utter the words "God has delivered them into our hands . . . boom, boom, boom . . . there's twenty! Ca-ching! Glory, Glory to God." These were characterized by the defendants as referring to the killing of gays. However, Donohoo says that his client actually said these words in the course of describing the biblical story of Jonathan and his armor-bearers slaying the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14:1-15. Accoring to Donohoo, he then went on to compare Jonathan's willingness to fight to what he thought ought to be his audience's willingness to fight politically against gay marriage, etc. According to Donohoo, the pastor was clear in claiming that the "fight" he was calling for was political.

If that's right, then claiming that Donohoo's client was calling for the murder of gays is kind of like saying that Pat Buchanan was calling for his supporters to slay his rivals for the 1996 GOP nomination when he urged them to ride to the sound of the guns.

Given the standard that applies in defamation cases of this type, it still seems like the case was not strong. But that doesn't matter. For all I know, there are still other facts that make it stronger. It does seem, even more than before, that the standard applied to find the Donohoo's argument that the defendants had maliciously misinterpreted his client's remarks was not the one that routinely gets applied.

This is particularly troubling given that Donohoo was representing a politically unpopular client. I am probably what you would call moderate on gay and lesbian issues, but I am not so certain about dismissing those who feel otherwise as "homophobic" and "haters" (as opposed to "wrong"). The speed at which those who hold more traditional views regarding the morality and social acceptability of homosexuality have become untouchables is staggering. My own view is that we ought to be more tolerant than we have in the past, but I worry a bit when a new public virtue becomes the only position that reasonable people are supposed to hold quite this quickly. What could we be missing in our rush to righteousness?

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

It's even more curious that the judge in this case has apparently gone 'ballistic' over this issue, especially in light of the testimony you provided.