Why Little Things Matter


I was going to write about this yesterday because It's semi-local and I found it interesting, but then I got distracted by epic personal lameness, so here it is today:

PORT ANGELES -- Tim Davis, a candidate for Clallam County District Court 1 judge, stood in front of a voters-forum audience of 100 people this week and related one of those stories about an electoral opponent that makes the ears perk up.

Davis, a candidate with Pam Lindquist in the Aug. 17 primary, said incumbent Judge Rick Porter had required a potential juror in a DUI trial to pledging to truthfully answer questions about her qualifications to be a juror, "so help you God."

The judge uses the term, asking if the juror so swears, and the juror is expected to answer, "I do."

When the woman objected -- after she was impaneled -- to saying "I do" to the phrase "so help you God," Porter told her to sit in the jury box "all by herself," Davis told the audience, saying Porter's actions were unnecessary and suggesting that Porter humiliated the woman.

"That never, ever happened," Porter responded at the forum Tuesday in Port Angeles.

"This issue, as far as I know, never came up."

Gail Smith of Sequim said Thursday that's exactly that happened to her Feb. 17 as a juror during a one-day driving-under-the-influence trial that Porter presided over.

Only an option

She said she was required to take the oath twice before the trial began despite the state Administrative Office of the Courts and the state Supreme Court saying that the phrase is only an option and not required.

"I had to say it to perform my civic duty," she said.

"I felt consternation, I felt embarrassment, and I felt discriminated against. I was not given the option that the state Supreme Court has given people."

Smith said she continued fuming about having to take the oath after the trial began.

During a break, she wrote a note in the jury room expressing her anger and gave it to the bailiff to give it to Porter, she said.

In the note, she compared the oath to taking an oath that invokes the name of Santa Claus, Smith said.

Her husband was in the courtroom with other trial participants and saw Porter laugh when he read it out loud, Smith said.

Her husband said Porter told the defense attorney and prosecutor that he needed to question Smith to determine if her anger would make her biased, Smith said.

When the jurors returned from lunch, Smith was called out of the jury room by the bailiff.

"I was required to sit alone in front of the defense lawyers, the prosecutor, a deputy sheriff witness, the general public and the defendant's family member while the judge explained to me that the state Supreme Court mandates that he follow, verbatim, certain protocol including the so-help-me-God oath," Smith said.

"He asked if my being upset at having to swear to the oath would taint my ability to be a juror, and I answered no."

She said that part of the oath is in brackets in court rules set out by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, meaning it is optional.

Smith described herself as a secularist, or one who, according to www.mirrian-webster.com ascribes to secularism, or "indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations."

"I'm a secularist, not an atheist," Smith said. "I challenge church dogma of any sort. It didn't make me any less impartial."

Porter agrees about option

Porter on Thursday agreed that the "so help you God" part of the oath is optional, noting, too, the brackets.

Porter said he vaguely recalled an incident involving a woman who objected to the oath.

He asked if the incident happened two or three years ago, saying it's been a long year.

He said no one is required to say "so help you God."

"I recall there was a lady who told [District Court Administrator Keith Wills] that she was an atheist and didn't want to do that," Porter said of the oath.

"I explained that I was sorry, and it was part of the script. I don't know if it was during the trial or after the trial, I honestly don't know.

"I recall vaguely having a conversation and saying I don't mean to offend you and that's the way the script reads."

Porter said this is the only time anyone has raised an issue with the oath in District Court.

"I'm just amazed that this is that big an issue," Porter said.

As to claiming at the forum, "that never happened," Porter said Thursday he was referring to Davis' characterization of the incident.

"He said I was rude and belittling to her, and that never happened."

It seems to me that this Judge singled this woman out, was kind of a prick to her, she stood up for herself, he was even more of a prick to her, and now he's trying to distance himself from the whole thing because it's nearly election time.

The thing that really gets me about these kinds of stories are the comments. A few of the uglier ones:

Posted by Allen Frank

Criminals hate Judge Porter.
Trial Attorney's hate Judge Porter.
Atheists hate Judge Porter.

Sounds like my kind of Judge.
God Bless you Judge Porter!

Posted by Allen Frank

The latest tactic of the Atheist Progressives is to deny being Atheist; calling themselves "secularists". Sounds better I guess.

"During a break, she wrote a note in the jury room expressing her anger and gave it to the bailiff to give it to Porter, she said.

In the note, she compared the oath to taking an oath that invokes the name of Santa Claus, Smith said."

Equating God with Santa Claus??
Sounds like an Atheist to me!!
Posted by Allen Frank

I never said it wasn't ok for folks to be Atheists.
It's just hysterical that people like Ms. Smith would go out of her way to claim to be a Secularist and not an Atheist....then equate God with Santa. That's the point. We have free will to make choices and are, THANK GOD, free to exercise our Rights. Even make fun of God like Ms Smith did.
I'm pointing out her clear case of HYPOCRISY!
Seems like Ms Smith enjoys being offended so she can lash out her dogma.

Most of the negative comments on the story were posted by this guy, Allen Frank. From what he's written, he's most likely a random harmless troll.

Posted by Lauren Pratt

If someone doesn't take an oath . . . how do u determine if THEY r telling the truth? R there consequences for people who do not take the oath and later are determined to be unethical or a liar???

This is just an epic fail in regard to reading comprehension. She didn't refuse to take the oath, she refused to say the bits having to do with god, which is legally her right.

Posted by Wynn silence

Porter must be doing something right. Because he's got all the drunks and nutjobs mad at him. Oh yeah and the Devil and his crouwd too.

Davis needs to present what he will do different or better than Porter or drop out of the eletion and quit waisting the peoples time with back stabbing.

And the same Go's for Pam Linquist. Both of them sound like they should be in the school district Judge for a day program.

This is probably the most disappointing comment I read. But nothing new or surprising here either.

Look, if a judge had made someone uncomfortable about saying the god bits of an oath, people would be freaking out about the injustice and abuse of power in the situation. It's hard not to feel a little bitter when a good chunk of comments (granted, a healthy portion of those were from ranty Mr. Frank, but still) are essentially saying - well, she's an atheist so good for him.

This is a little thing and it's very tempting to want to distance oneself from this kind of story to avoid the inevitable label of being whiny or petty, but when you let the little things slide, it paves the way for the bigger issues to have just a little more credence. That's why it's important for people to speak up, even for the little things like a religious display at the capital or the words 'Under God' in our pledge and on our money, or a judge using his position of influence to make you feel singled out or your secularism.

Non-religious people, just like any other kind of people, have a right to equal representation. We don't forfeit that when we make the decision to be open about our godlessness. Unfortunately, being a minority group, we have to remind people of that right fairly often and may even have to fight for that right from time to time. That's the burden of knowing what's right and sticking by it, even when society pressures you to conform to something different.