Former juror objects to Judge Porter's handling of "God" pledge

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- Tim Davis, a candidate for Clallam County District Court 1 judge, stood in front of a voters-forum audience of 100 people this week and related one of those stories about an electoral opponent that makes the ears perk up.

Davis, a candidate with Pam Lindquist in the Aug. 17 primary, said incumbent Judge Rick Porter had required a potential juror in a DUI trial to pledging to truthfully answer questions about her qualifications to be a juror, "so help you God."

The judge uses the term, asking if the juror so swears, and the juror is expected to answer, "I do."

When the woman objected -- after she was impaneled -- to saying "I do" to the phrase "so help you God," Porter told her to sit in the jury box "all by herself," Davis told the audience, saying Porter's actions were unnecessary and suggesting that Porter humiliated the woman.

"That never, ever happened," Porter responded at the forum Tuesday in Port Angeles.

"This issue, as far as I know, never came up."

Gail Smith of Sequim said Thursday that's exactly that happened to her Feb. 17 as a juror during a one-day driving-under-the-influence trial that Porter presided over.

Only an option

She said she was required to take the oath twice before the trial began despite the state Administrative Office of the Courts and the state Supreme Court saying that the phrase is only an option and not required.

"I had to say it to perform my civic duty," she said.

"I felt consternation, I felt embarrassment, and I felt discriminated against. I was not given the option that the state Supreme Court has given people."

Smith said she continued fuming about having to take the oath after the trial began.

During a break, she wrote a note in the jury room expressing her anger and gave it to the bailiff to give it to Porter, she said.

In the note, she compared the oath to taking an oath that invokes the name of Santa Claus, Smith said.

Her husband was in the courtroom with other trial participants and saw Porter laugh when he read it out loud, Smith said.

Her husband said Porter told the defense attorney and prosecutor that he needed to question Smith to determine if her anger would make her biased, Smith said.

When the jurors returned from lunch, Smith was called out of the jury room by the bailiff.

"I was required to sit alone in front of the defense lawyers, the prosecutor, a deputy sheriff witness, the general public and the defendant's family member while the judge explained to me that the state Supreme Court mandates that he follow, verbatim, certain protocol including the so-help-me-God oath," Smith said.

"He asked if my being upset at having to swear to the oath would taint my ability to be a juror, and I answered no."

She said that part of the oath is in brackets in court rules set out by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, meaning it is optional.

Smith described herself as a secularist, or one who, according to www.mirrian-webster.com ascribes to secularism, or "indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations."

"I'm a secularist, not an atheist," Smith said. "I challenge church dogma of any sort. It didn't make me any less impartial."

Porter agrees about option

Porter on Thursday agreed that the "so help you God" part of the oath is optional, noting, too, the brackets.

Porter said he vaguely recalled an incident involving a woman who objected to the oath.

He asked if the incident happened two or three years ago, saying it's been a long year.

He said no one is required to say "so help you God."

"I recall there was a lady who told [District Court Administrator Keith Wills] that she was an atheist and didn't want to do that," Porter said of the oath.

"I explained that I was sorry, and it was part of the script. I don't know if it was during the trial or after the trial, I honestly don't know.

"I recall vaguely having a conversation and saying I don't mean to offend you and that's the way the script reads."

Porter said this is the only time anyone has raised an issue with the oath in District Court.

"I'm just amazed that this is that big an issue," Porter said.

As to claiming at the forum, "that never happened," Porter said Thursday he was referring to Davis' characterization of the incident.

"He said I was rude and belittling to her, and that never happened."

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 23. 2010 12:17AM
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