Complaint filed against judge's church order in teen DUI case
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
12/05/12 at 8:01 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The ACLU of Oklahoma filed a complaint Tuesday against a Muskogee judge for making church attendance a requirement of a teenager's deferred sentence for manslaughter.
Last month, District Judge Mike Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, to 10 years of probation in connection with an alcohol-related crash on Dec. 3, 2011, in which Alred's friend and passenger, John Luke Dum, 16, died.
Attending church regularly for 10 years was one of the requirements Norman placed on Alred to avoid a prison sentence.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma filed the complaint with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints asserting that Norman's decision disregards the country's founding principles of religious liberty and violates the Oklahoma Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to uphold and apply the law.
"We didn't file this complaint lightly," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. "We believe in a strong and independent judiciary. For us to come to this conclusion really speaks to the level of disregard that Judge Norman has showed towards the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state of Oklahoma."
Kiesel said that the council, which is made up of judges and attorneys, would make a recommendation to the Court on the Judiciary on what action, if any, to take against Norman.
The Court on the Judiciary consists of a mix of judges statewide.
Punishment options include a letter of reprimand or censure or losing a seat on the bench.
Norman can agree or contest the decision.
"We haven't asked the council for any particular recommendation. We hope they will recognize the serious nature of the complaint," Kiesel said.
Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a news release that Norman's decision to give a defendant a choice between church and prison cannot be enforced without illegal government intrusion.
"Acts of worship should come from a freely-made choice to adopt a faith, not from the government giving its citizens an ultimatum to sit either in a pew or a prison cell," he said.
Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore said he wasn't surprised that a complaint was filed.
"I'm not aware of anybody that can be punished by the government for not going to church," Moore said. "I firmly believe in going to church, but the Bible also tells you to obey the laws of the land. You can obey the laws of the land and still be a Christian. In this case, the laws of the land do not permit a judge to order you to go to church."
Alred admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.
He was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell just below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness for adults.
He was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender and had pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.
In addition to going to church and the standard rules governing deferred sentences, Norman imposed other conditions for Alred to avoid prison.
The teenager must wear an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption; attend victim-impact panels and speak at events about the consequences of drinking and driving; finish high school and welding school; attend counseling; and undergo drug and alcohol assessments.
Defense attorney Donn Baker has previously said his client has no plans to challenge the terms of the probation.
"My client goes to church every Sunday," Baker said last month. "That isn't going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him."
Norman could not be immediately reached Tuesday afternoon.
Original Print Headline: Complaint filed against judge for church order
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
District Judge Mike Norman: The ACLU of Oklahoma filed the complaint asserting that Norman's decision disregards constitutional principles.