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Chapter 16: Arraignment

Parsonage

A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint
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Jim couldn't have been more wrong about Veronica, from Chula Vista. "What's this I hear about you having an assistant pastor at your church who goes around molesting little girls? I've been listening to your program since you first went on the air last month and I didn't think you would tolerate a thing like that. What do you have to say for yourself?"

That stung, no doubt about it. Jim was thankful for Paul's perception that this kind of thing would happen. That, and the calls on his screen, gave him a little warning of what might be coming while he was on the air.

"Veronica, you're referring to a criminal case which is going to end up in court. I'm going to make just one statement about this case and one statement only. So all of you who are on hold right now waiting to talk about this, and all of you who are planning to call in and talk about this some more, please take note. Here is my last word." Jim wished he had time to write his last word before he went on the air with it but he didn't have that luxury. He took a deep breath and plunged in.

"Last night, a member of this church, David Court, was arrested for sexually assaulting a little girl who attends the church's day care program. However, I can say as a personal friend as well as his pastor that Dave Court is innocent of all charges. The police and the district attorney think he's guilty so that means he may have to go to trial. And by the way, Mr. Court is not a minister in the Wesley Evangelical Church. However, he is the assistant director of our day care program. Pending the outcome of his trial he will be on leave of absence without pay." Jim paused a few seconds, wondering if he should say anything more. However, he was saved by the cutaway theme which appeared in his right ear at that moment. "I'll be back to take your calls which do not relate to the David Court situation right after these important messages from your local station."

Paul turned the ignition key from the accessory position to the off position and the radio died. They had been listening to "The Pastor's Study" while parked in the Court driveway. There was no sound except Patricia's sobbing for several moments. Silently Debra gave her a tissue and then held the crying woman's ice-cold hands in her warm ones.

"Do you want me to stay with you for a while?" asked Debra softly.

Patricia shook her head. "Thanks, Debbie, but no. I think I need to be alone for a while."

"I understand," said Debra as Patricia got out of the Matador. Paul waited to make sure Patricia got her door open all right.

As they drove away, Paul slowly stroked his jaw. "This sure is a bad one for all of you. Dave's facing serious charges with strong circumstantial evidence against him. Patricia's husband is in jail and she's expecting a baby. And the press is going to try and smear you and the church because Dave was a church employee." Then he turned and gave Debra a wide, boyish grin. "But aren't you glad you called Paul."

"I sure am," she agreed. "You don't know how much Jim and I appreciate your being willing to take this case. It's such a comfort knowing that a Christian as well as a friend has everything under control."

"I wish!" said Paul, switching the radio back on.. "So tell me, what's Jim up to with this radio deal?" They could hear Jim in the background talking to a caller from Clinton, Iowa who wondered why the church service on Sunday morning used so many militant songs. The caller's name was Rodney. Debra turned the volume up a little.

"Could you give me some examples, Rodney, of what you consider to be militant songs."

"Well, I was listening to your worship broadcast this past Sunday and in that one service I heard "Sound the Battle Cry" and "Keep on the Firing Line". I guess my question is, how can this kind songs fit in with a worship service when Christians are supposed to be peaceful, and peace-loving."

Debra gritted her teeth, hoping the stress of the day would not prompt Jim to be sharp with this caller.

"For the rest of you listeners who may not be aware of it, some church administrators are trying to take all references to warfare out of our hymnals. Jim went on to explain about hymnology and spiritual warfare.

"Our next call is from Rayville, Louisiana. You're in 'The Pastor's Study'. Hello, Charles . . ."

Debra breathed a little easier. Jim had been a little acidic with what he had said to Rodney but he had kept his voice mellow. She then went on to explain to Paul about Ray Benson, CROSS radio, and "The Pastor's Study".

Paul stroked his jaw. "Does he use a call screener?"

"Yes, his administrative assistant, Sandy Simpson, does that for him and she's excellent."

"She'll need to be," Paul responded. That line is going to be jammed with people wanting to talk about Dave and Tessa. She'll really have to stay tough, in spite of the statement Jim gave a little bit ago."

The Matador rolled to a stop in the rear parking lot. Jim still had about five minutes of air time so Debra took Paul into the reception area and they chatted with Sandy.

"Have you seen the 'Evening News'?" Debra and Paul shook their heads so Sandy reached into her carryall and pulled out her copy, sliding it across the desk. The front page banner headline read, "LOCAL MINISTER ARRESTED FOR CHILD MOLESTATION". Paul took one look at that headline and reached for Sandy's phone. Furiously he dialed 1-555-1212.

"In Harrisburg, the 'Evening News'," he said in response to the information operator. "City desk, please. . . Yes, I'll hold." Sandy's eyes were as big as dollars and Debra was a little tense, also. But Paul flashed them a big wink and they both relaxed. He switched the phone to his other ear, leaned back in his chair, and propped a well-shined pair of penny loafers on the edge of Sandy's desk. She grinned broadly, anxious to see what would happen next.

"Hello, City Editor? . . . Good. I'm looking for a little more information about the local minister in your top story tonight. Could you give me his name, please? . . . I see. Let me introduce myself. My name is Paul Donaldson and I represent both the defendant, David Court, and the church which employs him. Could you give me the name of the fact-checker who cleared this story for publication? . . . Of yes you can. Your freedom of the press only extends to printing facts and you have printed a major error. Therefore, you have forfeited whatever First Amendment rights you thought you had as far as this error is concerned."

Jim stepped out of his office at that moment and saw the paper lying on Sandy's desk. He snatched it up and began reading the first paragraph, fury flashing from his eyes with each sentence he read. Debra tugged his sleeve and pointed to Paul, mouthing the word "listen".

"Speaking for the pastoral staff and the official church board, I'll tell you what you can do to make amends. First, I am demanding a correction in tomorrow's morning edition which specifies that the defendant in this case is not a minister. And that correction will be set in the same point type as was the erroneous headline. . . .Oh, but you will. Because if you don't, I will release a story to the wire services which will make you wish you had. . . . Good. Now, my second point. I want a reporter over here first thing in the morning to talk with Pastor Jim Hogan. Makes sense, doesn't it. If you want to print facts, you have to gather facts first, right? We'll give your reporter facilities right here in the church office to type up the final version of that story before he or she leaves so we can see it in print before anyone else does. . . .I know it's not your normal way of working, but then you're not dealing with a normal lawyer, either.

"Okay. Now, I'll tell what we'll do. If you print that correction as I have specified, and the story as it was typed up here, we'll guarantee you an exclusive which you can then feed to the wire services if and when you want to. That'll help us both. You'll get credit for the exclusive and we'll use your story as our standard statement every time a pesky reporter comes nosing around. . . . You, too. Nice doing business with you."

Everyone except Paul was speechless. "Sandy, can you give me a dollar?" Poor Sandy didn't quite know how to take this drawling, foot-propping lawyer from North Carolina. With eyes bigger than ever, she fished out a dollar bill and handed it to Paul.

The lawyer turned to Jim and said, "The official board has just retained me to represent you and your church's best interests in all matters pertaining to the David Court case." He paused and grinned. "Court's court case. That could get you tongue-tied, couldn't it? Anyway, I'm your lawyer now, too. Shake?" He stretched out a lanky arm and the two friends shook hands firmly.

"Paul Donaldson, you're something else," Jim said with a laugh and they hugged briefly. "I'm not sure I completely understand what happened on the phone a minute ago--"

"And it's just as well that you not know." interrupted Paul. "I won't tell you how to preach and you won't tell me how to lawyer. Agreed?"

"Agreed. Hey, I have an idea. Why don't we all go out tonight? Maybe Red Lobster. It's almost six thirty and Debra hasn't had a chance to do anything about dinner."

"That would be nice," commented Debra. "Sandy, how about it? You and Miles want to come along, too? Since Paul is now the church's lawyer, he may as well start getting to know the members of the board."

Everyone was agreeable and all but Jim left for the parsonage. He promised he'd be over by seven in time to leave for the restaurant. When the office area was vacant, Jim went back into his study and closed the door. He switched on the back lighting for a two-foot by three-foot transparency rendering of Warner Sallman's moving painting "Christ Our Pilot". In the foreground was a young man at the wheel of a storm-lashed ship at sea. In the background could be seen the wind-whipped waves. But at the shoulder of the struggling helmsman stood Jesus, his right hand pointing the way through the stormy night. Jim stared at the illuminated transparency for several minutes and then pulled out his battered college year book.

Jim Hogan had been assistant year book editor the year he graduated from Bible college. The class motto had been "Christ Our Pilot" and it was Jim's idea to get permission of the copyright owners to use the Warner Sallman painting in a full-page display of that motto. He then had volunteered to write the words and music for a class song built around the concept of that same motto.

With a wry smile, he turned to the song and studied it for a while. Never was sung in public except for the senior class struggling through it at graduation with Jim directing. A little corny in places. But it had been oh so comforting many times when the storms of life had threatened the frail bark of his soul. He still remembered the tune well enough to sing it all the way through:

Now our stay at school is done,
And before our eyes is flung
The great sea of life so vast,
Into which our bark is cast.
Will we reach the blissful shore?
Will we sink to rise no more?

Many dangers mark our way;
Hidden rocks beneath the spray,
Rushing waves on every side,
Clouds that seek our goal to hide.
Winds and storms and sky so dark,
Try in vain to sink our bark.

Even though our fear is great
And our vessel soon may break
We must never cry and groan;
We are not at sea alone.
Let us ever trust the Lord;
Christ Our Pilot is on board!

This time, Jim couldn't sing it all the way through, his travail of soul was so great. But the last two lines gave great comfort, even if he only mouthed the words: "Let us ever trust the Lord; Christ Our Pilot is on board!"

The phone rang and he roused from his reverie with a start, glancing at his watch as he picked up the receiver. "Pastor Hogan."

"Jim, it's seven o'clock. Are you ready?"

"Coming, Debra."

Wednesday was to be the day for Dave's arraignment, the day when everyone hoped Judge Schwartz would grant bail. But it was not to be, on Wednesday, at least. Just as the Hogans and Paul were getting ready to leave the parsonage for the Court House, Paul got a call from the DA's office. His face was longer than usual when he hung up.

"This is going to make Patty feel lower than a snail's tail," he said seriously. "That was the DA's office. Priscilla Lane has been called out of town on urgent personal business and Dave's arraignment has been postponed until Friday morning at ten o'clock. There was a moment of dejected silence. Everyone felt sorry for both Dave and Patricia.

"Think I'll redeem the time by driving down to Philly and getting up to speed on this Board of Education case I was telling Debbie about on the phone the other night," Paul said suddenly. If you don't hear from me, I'll meet y'all at the Court House Friday morning. Here's a number in case you need to reach me before then," and he scribbled a number on the back of a "Call Paul" card.

"Jim, one of us has to call Patricia.," reminded Debra. Jim offered to do it, hating the thought of being the bearer of such bad news.

 

"Superior Court for the County of Cumberland is now in session," monotoned a young woman standing beside a steno machine. She was apparently doubling as the court clerk and the court recorder. "Judge Amos Schwartz, presiding. All rise."

Patricia, Debra, and Jim were sitting in the front row, right behind Paul and Dave at the defendant's table. While they were waiting for the judge to take his seat on the bench, the sound of a number of people entering the court room caused several folks to turn and look. And those who turned to look ended up staring in disbelief.

The judge did a fair amount of staring of his own. Seldom if ever was an arraignment attended by more than the lawyers, the defendant, and a few close family members. Now a group of about twenty-five people was filing into front rows on the defendant's side of the court room and taking their seats. And everyone was wearing some kind of uniform. Is this some sort of demonstration? He walloped his gavel three times with more force than usual. "Be seated."

Paul and Dave had a hurried, whispered conference. Then, Paul turned to Debra who was immediately behind him and there was more whispering.

Then Ms. Lane was on her feet. "Your honor, I'd like to know about the audience over here," and she waved a multi-ringed hand in the direction of the defendant's side of the court room. "If this is some kind of stunt cooked up by my esteemed colleague from North Carolina, I demand to know about it."

"Counselor?" invited Judge Schwartz.

"No stunt, I assure you," replied Paul. "Although I was not aware of this ahead of time since I just drove in from Philly this morning, these people are friends of my client and they are attending in his support."

"Attending an arraignment?" questioned the judge with annoyance. "Are they aware that all we're going to do here this morning is make formal charges, hear a plea, and acquaint the defendant of his constitutional rights during a judicial proceeding."

"One more thing, your honor," reminded Paul. "You're also going to hear my motion to grant bail."

"Yes, that, too," said Judge Schwartz dismissively.

Jessi had difficulty suppressing a smile as she listened to what was going on. Wednesday evening at dinner, her Mom and Dad had been discussing the postponement of the arraignment until Friday. Suddenly Jessi had a brain storm. Since early Tuesday morning, she had been trying to think of how she could help Dave and Patricia in their great time of need. And then it came to her. Why not call all the members of Dave's all-star softball team and get them to attend the rescheduled arraignment on Friday. And by luck, Friday was an inservice day for Mechanicsburg teachers and there was no school. So, she could bring along all the members of the Ivory Club who attended Wesley Evangelical. And wouldn't it be extra neat to have the ball players show up in uniform and the Ivory kids to wear their sweatshirts?

Jessi hoped that folks didn't think her group was here as spectators or to provide passive moral support. They were here to work and work hard. Jessi had been very explicit on the phone when she made her contacts. "We're going to pray like we've never prayed before. And our prayer target is going to be bail. I understand the DA's office is opposed to bail. And if he doesn't get it, they'll keep Dave in prison until the trial, and that may be months from now. If Peter could be prayed out of prison, Dave can be prayed out of prison, too!"

Jessi jumped a little as Judge Schwartz whacked his gavel before speaking directly to her group. "Your presence here is certainly unusual but you are welcome to stay as long as you are not disruptive. If you disrupt these proceedings in any way, I'll clear the court room immediately and hold this group's leader in contempt of court. Who is this group's leader? Surely someone had to organize this appearance." The judge leaned over the edge of the bench and peered down at Jessi's entourage.

The leader rose. "I guess I'm the leader, your honor," she said hesitantly.

"And who might you be?"

"Jessica Lee Hogan," your honor. "I'm a friend of Dave-- of the defendant."

"Go off the record," said Judge Schwartz to the young lady who was clicking away on her steno machine. "Now, Miss Hogan, just what kind of group have you brought into my court?"

"The guys in the pin stripes are members of a church soft ball team which Dav-- which the defendant coaches. And the kids in the sweatshirts like mine," and she gave a little tug to her shirt's hem, "are members of a club at school who happen to go to our church."

"I see," mused the judge. "And what kind of club might this be?"

"We're a virginity support group," your honor. "We encourage everyone to restrict sex to marriage, and we help kids who're having a struggle with that concept."

"Could you come a little closer," asked the judge. "I'd like to get a better look at your shirt."

Jessi stepped into the aisle and walked to stand by the defendant's table. Debra was amused to see she had her pin stripe scorekeeper's pants on, in addition to the Ivory sweatshirt.

"'Ivory. One hundred percent pure'," read the judge out loud. "Hmmm. You want to restrict sex to marriage, do you. Why's that?"

"Because that's God's plan for how we should live, as outlined in the Bible," said Jessi simply.

"Your honor, please--" began Ms. Lane, rising to her feet.

"Counselor, didn't you notice we're off the record, here. If you don't want to listen to this, leave."

The Assistant DA resumed her seat with compressed lips.

"Now, Jessica," continued the judge," do your parents know you're out gallivanting around the county on a school day?"

"They're right here, your honor," said Jessi, turning to her right. "May I present Rev. and Mrs. James Alan Hogan.

Judge Schwartz truly smiled for the first time since entering the court room.

"May I congratulate you both on having such a fine daughter." The judge nodded in the direction of the Hogans. "If this county had more like her, I could retire early."

Jim rose. "Thank you very much, your honor. Her mother and I want all of you to know we'll very proud of her today," and he stepped into the aisle and kissed her on the cheek.

The Assistant DA was seething. Gag me with a spoon!

As Jessi was turning to go back to her seat, Judge Schwartz had one more question. "Are you a Yankee fan by any chance, seeing you're all wearing pin stripes?"

"Sure am," answered Jessi proudly.

"Think they'll take the AL East this year?"

"I think that Game One of the World Series will be played in Yankee Stadium!"

"Good girl," agreed the judge. "Me too!"

Ms. Lane rose. "Your honor, I move we go back on the record and complete this proceeding."

"Relax, Ms. Lane. The day is young." Judge Schwartz swiveled in his chair and faced back toward Jessi and the rest of the audience seated in the court room.

"Now, Miss Jessi. May I call you 'Miss Jessi'?"

"Sure", smiled Jessi, while watching the Assistant DA out of the corner of her eye. She was definitely wearing another "gag me with a spoon" expression.

"Miss Jessi, will you approach the bench?"

Approach the bench? Wow! That sure sounded legal, not in a scary way but in an official way. Maybe it might be kind of fun to be a ...

"Yes, Your Honor."

Judge Schwartz pulled his chair closer to his desk and leaned over the edge to peer down at Jessi through his half-spectacles. He spoke with normal volume and everyone in the room heard all that was said. "Miss Jessi, could you tell me just exactly what all your friends are doing in the court room today? This is the biggest crowd I've had at an arraignment since I've been sitting on this bench. I have an idea there's something a little unusual going on here and I'd kind of like to know what it is." The judge leaned a little closer. "I have a strong sense that you're a completely honest person, aren't you?

"I always try to be," responded Jessi, not really sure what was coming next.

"Good!" Then tell me exactly why you brought your softball friends and your Ivory friends into my court room this morning. Can you do that please?"

Why not? Jessi raised her clear blue eyes and looked straight into the judge's serious brown ones. "My friends are here to pray for you. Right this second, they are asking the Holy Spirit to give you a full measure of wisdom in making the right decision about Dave's-- about bail for the defendant.

"I see," said the judge slowly, leaning back in his chair for a moment of contemplation. Then he leaned forward again.

"Are you saying that these robes," he plucked a fold of black fabric "and this gray" and he tweaked a tuft of his own hair above his right ear, "--this gray and mostly bald head, and all those diplomas hanging on the wall back in my chambers, are not sufficient evidence of my judicial perspicacity?"

There was a collective holding of the breath among Paul, Dave, Jim, Debra, and even Patricia. The Assistant DA was sneering openly.

Jessi maintained her clean, level gaze and answered meekly. "Your honor, if I were a defendant in your court, I would feel very comfortable with you hearing my case, as comfortable as any defendant can be, at least. In fact, sir, I kind of like you." she confided in a moment of teenage candor.

"But even King Solomon needed wisdom from God, and he was the wisest man who ever lived."

"That's something I'll never turn down, wisdom from God," said Judge Schwartz sincerely.

"Your Honor," said the assistant DA in a near-childish whine, "I move that we--"

Whack. "Motion granted," said the judge, matter of factly. He nodded at the court recorder who resumed clicking quietly on the keys of her steno machine. "The matter before this court today is the arraignment of David E. Court on the charge of felonious sexual assault against the person of the minor child of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Stetson, by the name of Tessa Stetson."

The judge continued in his court monotone, "The District Attorney's office has submitted the police investigation and arrest reports, as well as the preliminary medical report. I have reviewed these documents in chambers and it is my conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to hold Mr. Court for the Grand Jury."

"Mr. Court, will you and your counsel approach the bench.?" Dave and Paul moved forward and were joined by the court recorder, complete with her steno machine on a stand which she was able to lift to a height which permitted her to continue clicking away while standing erect.

"How do you plead?" asked the judge.

"Not guilty," answered Paul promptly.

The judge glanced at Dave to confirm the plea and he nodded briefly. The judge nodded in return and the court recorder clicked "not guilty" into the official court record.

"You may resume your places," said the judge to the small gathering at his bench.

Judge Schwartz then detailed the rights which Dave would enjoy during the trial process as outlined in the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.

Then Paul stood. "Your honor, we move that the defendant be released on his own recognizance pending the convening of the Grant Jury and other court proceedings in this matter."

Priscilla Lane shot to her feet. "The People object, your honor. We request continued incarceration during the trial period on the basis of the severity of the charge, as well as the strong physical evidence which links the defendant to the crime. We contend that his continued presence in the community will constitute a clear and present danger to other little girls such as Tessa Stetson."

As soon as the Assistant DA took her seat, Paul was on his feet, speaking calmly but with conviction. "My client has no prior arrests and has been living and working peacefully in his community for several years. Defense will contend that the physical evidence noted by the People is based on mistaken identity. Therefore, the defendant is no greater threat now than he has been during the seventeen years he has lived in the Mechanicsburg area.

"Your Honor, may I present a character witness on behalf of my client's being released on his own recognizance?"

"You may proceed, but with a warning for both of you," the judge said, including both Paul and the Assistant DA in his stern glance. "At this time, I will hear nothing but testimony which speaks directly to the defendant's suitability to walk the streets of Mechanicsburg during the trial period. Is that clear?" Both lawyers responded in the affirmative. Then Paul said, "Defense calls Grace Carson."

"Ah, Dr. Carson," replied Judge Schwartz with a broad smile of recognition. "So nice to see you again. Would you mind coming forward and being sworn?

"Of course not," answered Grace briskly. She strode to the witness stand and waited while the court recorder, in her role as court clerk, asked if she would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under threat of punishment by almighty God.

Jessi focused all her prayer energy on what Grace was about to say and how Judge Schwartz would receive it. Up and down the rows occupied by her friends, the same thing was going on in the minds and hearts of Dave's softball team and the kids from Ivory.

Grace did her part, speaking calmly but with sincere intensity.

"I have known Dave Court since he entered kindergarten at High Street Elementary School. I taught sixth grade and was serving as Head Teacher at that time. Since then, I have had numerous occasions to observe him as a student and an athlete in my various capacities as elementary principal, and high school principal. Never in my thirteen years of contact with Dave in the Mechanicsburg school system have I observed violence in this young man. Of course he was mischievous at times, but never in an attitude of viciousness, always in clean fun."

Paul called Jim to the stand next and Jessi continued in a spirit of prayer as her dad offered his testimony.

"I have had several occasions to observe Dave with young children in general and with the victim in particular. In every instance, he has been friendly and fun-loving without the slightest connotation of anything sexual."

Suddenly the court room's double doors burst open with a double bang.

Parsonage Table of Contents
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