Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and Facebook postings have stirred-up a hornet’s nest in Ellis County.
(Article by L.P. Phillips)
It starts with Waxahachie lawyer Mark Griffith, who doesn’t mind telling anyone he prays for help before court, during a trial and on Facebook.
It’s the Facebook part that is at issue, another new twist in the odd world that social media has created.
Twice, in separate trials, the Ellis County District Attorney’s office has convinced judges to stop Griffith from posting running commentary of a trial in his prayers on Facebook.
“No lawyer is allowed to make running commentary in the public forum regarding witnesses, the character of witnesses, the opinion of the guilt or innocence of defendants or suspects in criminal cases.” said Patrick Wilson, Ellis County District Attorney. He claims it’s basic legal ethics.
The argument doesn’t hold water with Griffith. He contends his office has a history of tweaking the DA in criminal cases, and he sees the argument over his prayers on Facebook as an effort by the District Attorney’s office to throw him off balance.
“I can assure you he’s not going to” said Griffith. “What he attacked was my firm’s personal Facebook page and prayers mentioned by me prior to trial and during trial. And there’s not going to be a motion, and there’s not going to be any order from any court, that’s going to keep me from praying and asking for God’s wisdom as I’m fighting for his children.”
Wilson says Griffith knows better and is hiding behind religion. “Prayer has nothing to do with this. The right to free speech has nothing to do with this” says Wilson. “This has everything to do with maintaining the integrity of our judicial system. And if he wants to fight that fight with the state bar of Texas, good luck.”
Griffith is quick to point out an instruction virtually every judge gives every juror during a trial: Jurors are not to read, listen to or view accounts of the case during the trial. The case is to be decided from the evidence presented in court. Griffith says he has never found a juror who didn’t take that admonishment to heart.
But the murky world of social media can present challenges to the most conscientious of jurors. What if, Wilson asks, a person were to copy one of Griffith’s postings then repost it on their Facebook page? Or what if they send it along through Twitter
“That’s absolutely a concern.” Wilson argues. ” Unless someone knows how to completely lock down and prohibit jurors from even looking at social media during the course of a trial, this is the only way to appropriately control a trial. And prayer has nothing to do with it.”
So far the judges have sided with the state in a broad way. Griffith is allowed to pray on social media, so long as those prayers don’t contain a running account of the trial.
Griffith plans to appeal. “I am not going to give up my faith.”
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