NewsTue Feb 17, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST
Pro-Life Pastor Faces 2 Years Jail and Fine for Peaceful Sidewalk Counseling
By Kathleen Gilbert
OAKLAND, California, February 17, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - An Oakland pastor arrested last May for peacefully counseling and picketing at a local abortion clinic has been found guilty of violating a new city ordinance that his lawyers are claiming is unconstitutional, and now faces up to two years in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Rev. Walter Hoye was convicted on January 15 of two counts of unlawfully approaching women entering an abortion facility, a misdemeanor enshrined in city law last spring, which holds a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Hoye is scheduled to receive his sentence on Thursday, February 19.
The African-American pastor is the founder of the Issues4Life Foundation and an outspoken opponent of the genocide of unborn African Americans. He had been accustomed since early 2007 to picket alone or with two other women on the public sidewalk in front of Oakland’s abortion clinic and counsel incoming patients. Pro-abortion escorts testified to regularly obstructing Hoye’s message by blocking the pastor’s sign (reading "Jesus loves you and your baby, let us help you") with a sheet of blank poster board and shouting loudly to prevent dialogue with patients.
The Life Legal Defense Fund (LLDF), the legal group representing the pastor, says that after this interference did not deter Rev. Hoye, the abortuary worked with Oakland city council members last spring to pass an ordinance concerning "Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities." The law prohibits anyone from approaching within eight feet of women entering an abortion facility, without their consent. The maximum penalty was established as one year in jail and/or a $2000 fine.
LLDF lawyers began pursuing charges against the city council for passing the ordinance, which they call a blatant attack on the pastor’s right to free speech, before Hoye was arrested in May 2008.
Hoye was charged with intimidating the abortuary staff, in addition to violating the distance rule, and was issued a restraining order. During a July 2008 pre-trial hearing, abortion clinic workers admitted that the pastor never used force, threatened force or obstructed anyone, yet the judge refused to lift the restraining order.
"This ruling contravenes case law that prohibits courts from issuing pre-trial stay-away orders absent evidence that the defendant threatened a witness about testifying." said LLDF Attorney Catherine Short. "One has to wonder why local officials find Mr. Hoye or his message so intimidating."
At the main trial in early January, a dramatic scenario ensued when, after clinic workers on the witness stand claimed Hoye intimidated them and several incoming abortion-seeking mothers, it was revealed that a friend of Mr. Hoye had been videotaping from across the street on both the days on which Mr. Hoye was accused of violating the law.
According to the LLDF, "The most egregious testimony" came from clinic director Jackie Barbic, who testified that Hoye approached within a few feet of several patients, including one who put up her hands in front of her face to ward off Rev. Hoye.
According to Barbic, she went outside with a measuring tape to Hoye what 8 feet looks like, at which point Hoye walked towards her, while she backed away saying, "Stay away from me! Back down! Back away!" with her hands held up to protect herself. During her testimony, her voice choked with emotion as she described how fearful and intimidated she was.
However, Ms. Barbic and the jury then viewed the video, which had captured the incident. The contents of the video flatly contradicted Baric’s testimony, instead showing Ms. Barbic approaching Rev. Hoye and pointing a tape measure at him - and Rev. Hoye not moving an inch.
LLDF explained, "When Ms. Barbic was asked if either of these were the incidents she was talking about, she immediately responded that these were not, and that there was a third incident with a tape measure that occurred later. ... There was, of course, no later incident, as the remaining video of the morning showed. Ms. Barbic’s other testimony was also contradicted in virtually every particular either by the video or by other prosecution witnesses." (To view LLDF’s full description of the cross-examination, go to: http://lldf.org/articles/WalterHoyeVsOakland)
The charges of harassment were then dropped. Despite the videotapes showing no aggressive or unwanted behavior by Rev. Hoye, however, the jury nevertheless rendered a guilty verdict on the two "unlawful approach" charges.
LLDF lawyers plan to appeal, in addition to pursuing the separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.
"This is a miscarriage of justice and we will appeal this verdict. After speaking with several jurors after the verdict was read, it is clear that the court’s failure and outright refusal to instruct the jury regarding the key elements of the crime led to the erroneous conviction of Rev. Hoye," commented Allison Aranda, Staff Counsel for Life Legal Defense Foundation, who is representing Rev. Hoye.
Rev. Hoye will be sentenced Thursday at 1:30 p.m.