Attorney: Commission has right, duty to defend itself against lawsuit
I would like to respond to Mr. Jack Burke’s March 28 letter to the editor, but before I do, I want to thank the county commission, staff and the citizens of Rowan County for inviting me to your meeting on March 18, 2013. I felt very welcomed to your community.
Mr. Burke is correct as to the county commission’s main purpose as cited in his letter. However, the ACLU sued your county and brought this action to your “doorstep.” Your commissioners have the right and duty to defend any lawsuit in which the county is named as a defendant. Here, Rowan County is the defendant in a major federal lawsuit.
I, and the other attorneys in the Forsyth County lawsuit (Joyner Case), did not charge attorney fees, and in most instances the costs were borne by the very organizations defending Forsyth County. The citizens of Forsyth County also obtained funds privately to cover costs and attorney fees for the opposing side at the conclusion of that litigation.
It is also true the Supreme Court did not take the Joyner case up on appeal, but at that time the Supreme Court had the “Obama Care” appeals from various states before it and was swamped with that matter. Also noteworthy, and not cited, is that out of the three-member Joyner appeals panel, there was one clear dissent. Two to one is hardly a majority.
Of particular further note are the two appeals court decisions just handed down this past week on March 26 out of the 9th and 11th Circuit Federal Courts of Appeal which found no constitutional violations of the prayer/invocation policies. Those two cases are as follows:
• 11th Circuit: Atheists of Florida, Inc. Ellenbeth Wachs v City of Lakeland, Florida , Gow Fields
• 9th Circuit: Shelly Rubin, Maureen I. Feller v City of Lancaster, a municipal corporation
These two appellate federal court opinions also mention the Joyner case, and not in a favorable fashion either. Thus, there continues to be a split in the federal circuits over the prayer/invocation policies which must be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. That day is coming.
No lawsuit is fun, and none is cheap to prosecute nor defend. I know. I have litigated in state and federal courts for over 20 years, and in some instances dealing with foreign country court systems. In some instances, you have to fight for what is right. And in some instances, there is a high cost, both personally and financially. I know that, too.
Just recently my 12-year-old son was studying World War II in his history class. They were covering the Holocaust period. I was invited to do a presentation to his class in that I had many combat photos taken by my father from WWII, which were passed on to me years ago. Some of those photos that my dad took were when he and his unit liberated the concentration camps outside the town of Nordhausen. My dad was a young lieutenant then with the 3rd Armored Division. For a long time, the United States took the stance of not getting involved in the European conflict, until December 1941. I often wonder how many of those concentration camp inmates would have been alive had the United States not ducked its head in the sand leading up to Pearl Harbor as Hitler was building his Third Reich along with destroying all freedoms to include the churches. Had our Army had gone in long before D-Day to eventually, in 1945, liberate many of these camps, many of the murdered would have lived to have productive lives.
How much longer will citizens across this country duck their heads in the sand when faced with ACLU lawsuits that threaten to erode the rights given to us by the U.S. Constitution? It’s natural to have fear. But I imagine many of the Rowan citizens have faced fear in their lives and did not surrender to those fears. There is no guarantee what the outcome will be in your case. But one thing is for sure — if you give up, then the battle is already lost. The ACLU is not always right. Sometimes doing the right thing involves pain and sacrifice.
I never wade into litigation lightly. Your county is being sued. You have a right to defend against the lawsuit. The commissioners are charged with the duty to do just that. They are fulfilling that duty.
Bryce D. Neier is a Fayetteville attorney and volunteer with the Alliance Defending Freedom. He notes the article above is “my private response and comment. It is not endorsed by any particular attorney involved in this case nor any county official. I am responsible for its contents.”