By Kathleen Gilbert
CHICAGO, April 26, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a major ruling that may prove decisive for the defense of pro-lifers arrested on Notre Dame's campus last year, an Indiana Judge has lifted a stay order barring the lead defense attorney in the cases from pursuing discovery of crucial evidence from Notre Dame officials.
St. Joseph County, Superior Court Chief Judge Michael P. Scopelitis has authorized Thomas More Society-allied attorney Tom Dixon to pursue testimony under oath from officials who were key decision makers in the arrest of the Notre Dame 88 (ND88). It will also allow him to subpoena documents that may shed light on the college's apparent inconsistency regarding the arrest and prosecution of other groups and individuals participating in similar on-campus events.
The ND88 were arrested on campus last May while peacefully protesting the Catholic university's decision to honor the vehemently pro- abortion President Barack Obama.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, called the recent development "very significant" in a press release Monday.
Brejcha pointed to the findings of a recent investigation by the Notre Dame alumni group, Sycamore Trust, that found that homosexual rights and anti-ROTC protesters received "at worst, mere slaps on the wrist for leading unauthorized protests on campus."
LSN reported last week that William Dempsey, the president of Sycamore Trust, had contacted members of the pro-gay group Soulforce, and Catholic Worker anti-ROTC demonstrators, who were arrested for trespassing on campus in March 2007. "All state that, after they were taken into custody and processed on the campus, they were released and heard nothing more," he said.
However, it still remains unclear whether the decision not to pursue those cases further was made by the university or the local prosecutors or police. But thanks to the recent decision by Judge Scopelitis, the Thomas More Society may be one step closer to finding out the answer.
"We believe that through discovery we may well uncover evidence that the Notre Dame police engaged in 'viewpoint discrimination:' that the university singled out the ND88 for especially harsh treatment," said Tom Brejcha Monday.
Judge Scopelitis also ruled that once discovery is completed, he may convene an evidentiary hearing to review the ND 88's legal defenses before any individual trials.
The Thomas More Society has urged Notre Dame University president, the Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to request that the charges be dropped against the ND88 in the same way that trespass charges were previously dropped against the homosexual rights activists and anti-military protesters. Up to now, Fr. Jenkins has not acted on that request.
In a telephone interview with LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) Monday, Dixon explained that the documents would allow the defense to pin down the real reason for the University's apparently disparate treatment of pro-life protesters versus other protesters.
"The constitution does not allow a state actor ... to suppress speech based on viewpoint," said Dixon.
Dixon pointed out that while the ND 88 processed onto campus in prayer and for three consecutive days, "they were met with large groups of pro-Obama demonstrators on campus" - whom Notre Dame officials confirmed had not sought and did not possess a permit to protest.
"My clients were being arrested while pro-Obama people were standing there watching, and the police were standing there allowing them to do that."
Dixon confirmed that there was still some question as to the local police's involvement in the earlier homosexualist and anti-military protests; however, he said, "either way, it seems like there's some contradictory evidence" between Notre Dame's claim to have treated all protesters according to the same protocol, and the vastly different outcomes among the different types of protesters.
"[The earlier protesters] were arrested by Notre Dame and then just simply taken to the edge of campus and released: 'Go and sin no more, don't come back,'" said Dixon. "That is a far-cry different treatment from our clients, who were arrested and hauled off to jail, and you have the president of the University saying, ‘I can't call for the dismissal of these cases.'
"It's far different treatment, and you have to ask the question: why?"
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Notre Dame Anti-Military, Pro-Gay Protesters Let Go; Pro-Lifers Still Face Fines, Imprisonment