Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nov 5, 2009 - Douglas County Jail Court Report - four STRATCom "Space Weapons Bazaar" protesters plea.....

Saturday, November 07, 2009 1:01 PM

Finally a Judge Who Supports Civil Disobedience by Steve Clemens.

November 6, 2009


Nov 5, 2009

Douglas County Jail Court Report


By Frank Cordaro


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 showed himself to be self-aggrandizing,

politically incorrect, racist, sexist, making inappropriate comments,

asking questions way beyond the scope of his professional obligation

as a judge, and delving into people's personal non-legal issues. 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 actions."


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.


*** Correction: In the previous posting (below) it was mistakenly

noted that Fr Jack McCalsin was fined $250 for breaking his Federal

probation agreement by getting arrested last year at the Qwest Center

"Die-In". Fr Jack's Federal probation stems from his Dec 2008 line

crossing at STRATCom. Fr Jack was not fined, instead his probation was

extended. He is still at risk of being sent to Federal Jail for six

months because when he got arrested with us this year at the Qwest

Center - he violated his extended Federal probation. Stay tune for

follow ups. The four Omaha protesters go to court on Dec 9th


Previous Posting: Report: 8 arrested at "Die-In" at STRATCom Space

Weapons Bazaar in Omaha - 91 year old Peg Gallagher among them.

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