When my family moved to Lookout Mountain in 1964, I must admit that parts of the region known as Northwest Georgia were reminiscent of places I have seen in Third World countries. Until moving there, I never had seen tarpaper shacks, children at school with what seemed to be permanently dirty faces, and general, grinding poverty.
Much has changed in that region since then. While there still are poor people, the poverty I saw hardly is widespread anymore, and in many ways, the region can be a pleasant place in which to live. Unfortunately, its legal climate is still stuck in 1964, a time when it was de facto legal in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit for a white man to murder a black man.
My father brought us down to the LMJC when Covenant College moved from St. Louis to the old Castle in the Clouds, and at Covenant, which is located in Dade County, black students were told in no uncertain terms that they were NOT to be seen walking south of the college's property, and especially along Highway 157. In fact, over the years, a number of black students did receive death threats from the good people residing in the LMJC, but no one was killed. I'm sure that had someone killed one of Covenant's black students, he would not have been charged or prosecuted.
This was a time when the Dade County portion of Sand Mountain had a sign that declared: "N*gger, don't let the sun set on you here." The people there meant every word, and I still would caution any black person from venturing up there without an armed escort. That was the kind of place the LMJC was then, and while I don't see the same overt racism that once characterized the place, the area's "justice" system is racist, as Len Gregor proved during the Tonya Craft trial, when he lied to jurors, telling them that Ms. Craft has slept with a black man.
Now, for the most part, I do consider many of the people living in the LMJC to be honest, or at least decently honest. Unfortunately, they put up with a culture of corruption that exists with police, prosecutors, and, yes, judges.
To be fair, the LMJC hardly stands alone. My friends from Texas tell me horror tales of Williamson County police, courts, and prosecutors, and K.C. Johnson has a great post on his blog about the legal corruption that permeates Durham County, North Carolina. Interestingly, in many ways, the corruption of the LMCJ and Durham County seems to be similar.
What makes this point even more interesting is that demographically and politically, the two places hardly could be more different. The LMJC is overwhelmingly white and politically conservative. The most prominent college in that district, Covenant College, is both theologically and socially conservative. The region abounds with "Bible-believing" churches and I would venture to say that a large portion of the population claims to be "saved."
Durham County, on the other hand, is dominated by the hard left, including a coalition of blacks and activists associated with Duke University. Duke would be the antithesis of Covenant, its student body dominated by "hookup" culture, and the university does everything it can to promote gratuitous sex by handing out condoms everywhere and promoting disgusting things like the "Sex Workers Show" on campus. The university there is not "liberal" by any means; no, it is hard left, and though it is tied to the United Methodist Church, the university itself is virulently hostile to anything that might smack of Christianity.
Yet, when it comes to issues of justice, these communities are mirror images of each other. Durham was made infamous by its attempt to railroad three Duke University lacrosse players into prison for allegedly raping a black stripper, Crystal Mangum. As the case wore on, it became clear that the prosecutor, Michael Nifong, was lying and hiding exculpatory evidence, even while he rode the case to electoral victory, as the black voters of that county demanded a trial (and one person told Newsweek that it did not matter if the players were guilty, as they should be convicted solely because they were white).
The North Carolina State Bar intervened, and ultimately the charges were investigated by special prosecutors employed by North Carolina's attorney general. After a thorough investigation, the AG declared the players to be "innocent" and told the media that Nifong was a "rogue prosecutor." Later in 2007, the State Bar stripped Nifong of his law license, and he was removed as Durham County's AD.
Just five years later, Nifong's successor, Tracey Cline, a black woman who was second chair in the lacrosse case (and who lied about her involvement in it -- lying is part of the legal culture in that county), was removed from her office because of inflammatory statements she made in publicly attacking the senior judge in that county. (The judge also is black.) So, twice in five years, Durham County has seen its top prosecutors removed forcibly from office for misconduct.
So, why would I compare the LMJC to Durham, despite all of its cultural and racial differences? Like Durham, the prosecutors in the LMJC have a sorry history of withholding evidence and fabricating documents. Unlike Durham, there is no state bar and apparently no judicial or legal apparatus at all in the State of Georgia that effectively deals with prosecutorial misconduct.
However, like Durham, the LMJC has a policy of taking sex cases to trial no matter what the evidence might be. And like Durham, prosecutors in the LMJC always take the side of an accuser in a sex crime, no matter how specious the evidence actually might be, and like Nifong, LMJC prosecutors, once they latch onto a sex case, take a "win at all costs" mentality that throws justice out the window.
It was not just the Craft case. Brad Wade sits in prison and the case that Len Gregor brought against him was so dishonest and so bogus that it is hard to believe he was convicted of child molestation. The reason is one more strike against the LMJC: defense attorneys in that district know that their job is to offer up defendants to the altar of conviction.
Now, when someone is charged with a crime in the LMJC, that person faces a terrible dilemma: hire a local attorney (which prosecutors and judges prefer) and automatically get convicted, or hire someone outside the LMJC who will be roundly attacked by prosecutors, sneered at by judges, yet might be willing to put up a real defense. In the Craft case, prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor routinely launched verbal attacks against Tonya's defense team, made snide remarks, tried to disrupt defense attorneys while they were questioning witnesses, yet "judge" Brian House not only ignored the misconduct of the prosecutors, but actually teamed up with them in an attempt to rig a conviction.
(While I know there are some attorneys in the LMJC who have integrity, nonetheless the judges and Buzz Franklin and his minions have made it absolutely clear that an aggressive defense is not permitted -- even while prosecutors are permitted to run wild. The one exception is Bobby Lee Cook, who is permitted to win once in a while.)
The jurors in the Craft case did something that neither House nor the prosecutors ever could imagine them doing: demonstrate integrity. The shocked, ashen look on House's face when the verdict was being read spoke volumes to the integrity or the lack thereof of the people in the LMJC who are in positions of authority.
You see, if there is one thing that I believe characterizes the LMJC is the belief of the principals in that district who really seem to believe that they ARE the law, and that they are entitled to do whatever they damn well please. Anyone who followed the Duke Lacrosse Case can attest to the arrogance of prosecutor Mike Nifong and everyone else in the Durham "justice" system. Like Buzz Franklin, Arnt and Gregor, Nifong knew that his authority alone could force a bogus case to trial, and he also believed that a Durham jury would be craven enough to convict the players despite the fact that Nifong had no evidence -- and he knew he had no evidence, which is why he continuously lied to judges throughout the proceedings.
Likewise, House teamed with Arnt, Gregor, and Tim Deal not only to help Deal commit a felony (fabricating a document during the trial in order to fill a huge hole in the evidence), but also meeting secretly with the prosecutors in order to further their strategy. Observers at the hearings before the trial began told me that House was utterly hostile to ANY attorney for Craft that did not come from the LMJC and that he routinely and automatically ruled against the defense no matter how ridiculous the prosecution's position might have been.
The trial itself was a farce, but the difference -- and this was a huge difference -- was that the jurors did not take the bait from House and the prosecutors and act in a hostile manner toward the defense. House, Arnt, and Gregor believed that the jurors automatically would discount EVERYTHING the defense did because neither they nor their expert witnesses were from the LMJC, but that is not what happened. Instead, the jurors acted like people who wanted to do justice, and did not act like House, Arnt, and Gregor.
All of this raises a question as to why this kind of legal corruption exists in the LMJC. Why are police and prosecutors permitted to literally commit felonies in broad daylight, yet nothing is done? Why the silence from the media and the other gatekeepers, and especially the churches and the largest and most influential "gatekeeper" in the LMJC, Covenant College?
Other than one pastor, no one in a position of influence has spoken out about the massive lawbreaking, lying, and misconduct that has become the very trademark of the LMJC. During the Craft trial, no one from Covenant demonstrated a whit of concern as to what was happening, and at least one administrator there is friends with Holly Kittle, who to me represents everything that is wrong with the LMJC.
(Covenant says that it is "reclaiming the world for Jesus Christ," but the one part of the world that matters -- its own backyard -- apparently is off-limits when it comes to "reclaiming" for Christ. As I see it, the people there believe that legal trouble is for "other people," and if by chance someone from Covenant were to be falsely accused, most likely the administration and faculty there would do what evangelical Christians usually seem to do when one of their own is in crisis: shoot their wounded and move along.)
In the end, we see small, dishonest people gaining enormous amounts of power and authority, and they use it like a club against the innocent. Tonya Craft, Brad Wade, and James Combs can tell you that when it comes to dishonesty, no one does it better than the police, judges and prosecutors of the LMJC. Perhaps in my lifetime, someone, somewhere in a position of authority in Northwest Georgia will do what is right, but I have my doubts.