Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Extraordinary Sentencing of Walter Hoye

"He (Pastor Walter Hoye) was arrested May 13 at the Oakland clinic, carrying a sign that read, "Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help you!"

As women approached the door, he asked them, "May I talk to you about alternatives to the clinic?" --San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 2009 "Pastor Sentenced for Oakland Abortion Protest"

Today I joined a number of people from the Bay Area pro-life community, as well as people from as far away as Minnesota and Texas at the Alameda County Superior Court, to show our support for the heroic Pastor Walter Hoye, as he was sentenced by Judge Stuart Hing. Some of what follows describes my own reactions, and I will do my best to describe the outcome, although it is quite complicated.

The courtroom was packed. It has only 60 seats, and there were at least another 80-100 people in the hallway. A few of us arrived around 11:30 and were able to get in, although the hearing itself did not begin until around 2:30. As we waited in the hallway, we sang some hymns. A few pro-abortionists arrived, and on hearing our hymns started chanting in opposition.

I realized as never before what an impoverished world they live in, because while we were singing "We Shall Overcome" and "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Get behind me Satan!" and other hymns of Christian civilization, the only thing they could come up with was "Not the Church, not the state women will decide their fate." I honestly do not mean this in a condescending or patronizing way, but that struck me as very sad.

Another thing happened while we were waiting. A pro-abortion lady kept trying to push her way to the front, past people who had been waiting for at least two hours. She did not succeed but for a while caused a little bit of a ruckus. She ended up right in front of me and a pro-life woman. Both of us were standing there praying silently--not on our knees or with any show at all (we had both forgotten our rosaries!) or even moving our lips. I don't see how anyone could have known we were praying. But after less than two minutes next to us, she suddenly announced she was uncomfortable and left.

I'll now describe what happened inside, to the best of my recollection. I was praying, not taking notes, and I'm not a trained reporter, but I believe this is accurate. I apologize in advance for any mistakes.

Inside the courtroom, Walter was represented by Alison Aranda and Michael Millen of the Life Legal Defense League. The Prosecutor made his case, and asked that Walter receive the maximum sentence: two years in prison, and a $4,000 fine. He said if Walter would promise to stay away from the clinic in question, his office was prepared to accept probation. Ms. Aranda, her voice breaking, said it would be an injustice for Mr. Hoye to be "sentenced to anything....", then, fighting back tears, she paused, got control of herself, and said "...for exercising his first amendment rights to freedom of speech!"

Judge Hing then spoke. He said that before today's sentencing hearing he had already been convinced that Walter was a very decent man. He said that the many letters he had receieved from supporters of Walter convinced him more than ever of Walter's basic goodness. He then made the point that the history of civil disobedience in our country (and he cited the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's and some demonstrations against the Vietnam War) does not protect those who violate what they consider to be unjust laws, but that those who practice the civil disobedience must hope that their witness inspires others to change the laws.

Judge Hing asked Walter if he would promise not to violate the stay-away order and would accept probation with this condition for three years. At that moment you could have heard a pin drop. I was thinking, praying: "Man, do it. Let's go. We'll fight another day."

Those who know Walter know that his gentle voice seldom rises above a whisper.

He said: "No, your Honor."

At that moment I thought of Elijah, where we learn that the voice of God was not in the earthquake or in the storm, but in the barely moving breeze. That barely audible "No, your Honor" carried as much weight as anything I have heard in my life.

Michael Millen concluded Walter's defense. He was logically and rhetorically magnificent. He pointed out that no abortion clinic "patient" was even a party to the charges against Walter. There was not a single "patient" in the courtroom. He pointed out if the "bubble ordinance" "protects" anyone, it protects the abortion clinic escorts and their "right" to censor Walter's message. He reminded the Judge that he (Judge Hing) had seen the videos of Walter having his path and signs blocked by the abortion clinic escorts, not the other way around.

Judge Hing then gave his ruling, and here is where things got confusing. Since Walter had already said he would not abide by the stay-away order, I was sure the Judge would be sentencing Walter to jail time, maybe the whole two years. I did not see how he couldn't. Instead, he sentenced Walter to 30 days jail time, but said it could be done as some kind of community service. He fined Walter $1,130. He sentenced Walter to three years of probation, during which time Walter was not to approach within 100 feet of the clinic in question, a condition Walter had already said he would not accept. Did this mean Walter was free?

At this point, one of Walter's friends, Dion Evans, erupted in outrage at this ruling based on an obviously unjust law, and was escorted out of the courtroom by the baliffs. Dion is a very big and strong man, and thank heaven there was no violence. We rose and left the courtroom, singing "We Shall Overcome." Outside the courtroom, someone asked me "what went on in there?" and I said: ask someone else, because I'm not sure I understand. It turns out I was not the only one.

We waited for some clarification of the sentence, and to see if Walter could appear, and after a good while someone came out and said the counsels were still in chambers and that the Judge was "refusing to accept Walter's refusal." Nobody, even the attorneys, understood this. It's apparently a novel legal approach: The Judge had asked Walter if he would promise to abide by the stay-away order and Walter said no. The Judge then ruled, and asked Walter if he would abide by the ruling. Walter again said no. But the ruling had been made and here is where the judge "refused to accept Walter's refusal." Apparently, the one thing Judge Hing did not want to do was to sentence Walter to jail time.

One of Walter's attorneys explained to us that probation is like a contract: both parties have to agree to ithe conditions. Walter did not agree to the conditions but the Judge gave it to him anyway. Apparently the "refusal to accept Walter's refusal" meant the Judge was going to try and impose the probation on Walter. If I understand correctly, Walter's attorneys said to the Judge, well, that's illegal, you can't do that. One of the attorneys also told us even the Prosecutor had said: my opponent is right, you can't do that. Later Michael Millen said we seem to be in a legal no-man's land here. It's uncharted territory. There will be some sort of a follow-up hearing on March 20. Finally, Walter and his wife Lori appeared, to hugs, applause from his friends and admirers.


Mark Shea often says "sin makes you stupid." Back on August 24, 2008, commenting on Speaker Pelosi's bizarre statements on "Meet the Press" I myself wrote "The corruption of reason is one of the logical consequences of legalized abortion." I believe this strange day in court, with a Judge tied in knots because of an obviously unconstitutional law, proves this once again.

But the bottom line is: Walter is a free man. He's sentenced to 30 days of community service, but his entire life is commuity service. He has not renounced his principles at all, in any way. And he said very clearly twice he will not accept a law that abridges his constitutional right to freedom of speech. What a man.

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write up. I'm pleased that so many people are willing to stand up to the rights of unborn children.

The Zapman said...

Mr Hoye, reading about your courage has brought me great joy this morning. Thank you. My family and I will offer prayers for you!

Kenmore Prayer Circle said...

Thanks for sharing this inside look at a key moment in history. Please clarify so I can attribute this properly when sharing, this account was written by Gibbons J. Cooney, correct?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's right Katie. When I post on Fr. Malloy's blog it says "Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney" at the bottom of the post body.

Otherwise the posts are by Fr. Malloy himself.


Unknown said...

I arrived at the courthouse early and was waiting on line to enter by shortly after noon. When Walter and the pastors arrived it was as if the Apostles had entered the building. We went from silent prayer to joyous and uplifting prayer and song. It did not matter how many pro-aborts were there to taunt us and to riducule Walter and the helpless unborn children we were in the presence of God. He was with us and in complete control and their was nothing Satan could do using his evil army against us. It was an awesome day and the courage shown by everyone from Walter and the pastors to the frailness in body but strength in the soul of the Smalley's and other senior citizens who were there was incredible. It was a day that I will never forget. Walter is in my prayers and God will previal in this battle to save unborn children.
Nora A. Dougherty
San Francisco, CA

Carol Marie said...

Thank you for posting this account of what happened inside the courtroom. I also attended, and while I arrived at 1:00 (driving down from Tahoe to be there), I was not one of the lucky few to be given a seat. I was quite frustrated that the judge allowed the 30 pro-aborts present to take a full 1/2 of the courtroom, leaving nearly 100 pro-life supporters of Walter still standing out in the hallway during the hearing. But we used that time well, interceding in prayer for Walter and the Judge. It was a wonderful, spiritual time as we came together in prayer to support our brother.

Anonymous said...

I was also inside the courtroom and saw and heard everything mentioned in this blog post.

Walter's unassailable character and the truth of free speech is definitely intimidating to this judge. Walter absolutely called Hing's bluff by giving him no option but to jail him - which Hing was amazingly unwilling to do.

I want to point out also that Hing attempted to sentence Walter with a greater distance from the clinic than required by the law. The law says 100 feet. The proposed sentence was for 100 yards. This difference was protested by Walter's attorneys and part of what Walter refused to accept, even as he agreed to respect the 100 FEET law until it is overturned.

The judge also denied a motion to continue the sentencing until the other case is settled regarding the constitutionality of the law, and another motion as well, which I can't remember.

I want to applaud Dion Evans for his outburst. He safely expressed the pent-up emotion that all of us had, and he held that judge's feet to the fire for his inexcusable disregard of morality and justice. Evans demanded the judge show respect and pay attention when spoken to, and Evans left the courtroom on his own terms, escorted by his friends. He was furious and expressive, but in control of his language and actions at all times. The judge showed an interesting sort of respect for that outburst, in his acknowledgment and in that he did nothing to shut Evans down, although Hing did walk out of the courtroom when he decided he'd heard enough. The judge needed to see and hear what he was provoking, and Evans gave him a taste of it on behalf of all of us.

The Assistant D.A. was young and copped some attitude when he mocked Walter's use of "an unjust law is no law at all". It showed that this guy had no knowledge of Martin Luther King Jr., let alone St. Augustine's famous quote. In fact, the Asst. D.A. showed an alarming lack of understanding and respect by using that quote to make his unfounded case for jail, in the face of Walter saying he WOULD respect even unjust laws.

In one short generation, the impact of civil rights history is already being lost.

Walter has no sentencing and no restriction on him right now. He is going back to the clinic. And we'll all be back in court on March 20th. Mark your calendar and spread the word!