Blogging prosecutor hit by "friendly fire"

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UPDATE (10/25/2005): Lance has taken a hiatus from blogging and taken down his blog for the time being. Unfortunately, shortly after he took his blog off the net, a spammer grabbed the blog name in order to take advantage of its high page rank, so I've had to remove links to his old blog. (You can read about this newfound method of junking up the Internet here.) When Lance returns to the blogosphere, I'll be sure to let you know.

This last week, the good people of Dayton, Ohio, lost a skilled prosecutor, but Dayton's loss may be Tulsa's gain.

Fighting for justice and truth is a costly thing. You face opposition not only from those who are trying to conceal their wrongdoing and escape the just consequences of their deeds, but also from those who believe the battle is too risky and not worth fighting. The phrase, "Pick your battles," is too often a coded way of saying, "Don't ever fight." The latter kind of opposition can be more demoralizing than the former, because it comes from those who are ostensibly on your side.

At the international level, President Bush has taken grief from our Western "allies" for taking the war on terror directly to the enemies of civilization. Our "allies" aren't pro-terror, but they're unwilling to take the decisive action necessary to defeat those who threaten their survival.

At the Capitol, the effort to get just judges appointed to Federal courts has been undermined by those Republican senators unwilling to consider the "nuclear option" -- hiding behind comity and precedent, they seem most afraid of getting a tongue-lashing from the editorial board of the Washington Post.

At Tulsa's City Hall, we've seen the price being paid by Councilors Jack Henderson, Roscoe Turner, Jim Mautino, and Chris Medlock, and by their families, particularly by Mautino and Medlock, who face a recall election a week from Tuesday. Make no mistake: The purpose of the recall election is punitive, to make men like Mautino and Medlock pay so dearly for trying to serve the interests of Tulsa's citizens that other men and women of integrity will not seek to serve on the Council. The people behind recall want a Council that is cowed and compliant. Mautino and Medlock face fierce opposition, but it's my own experience that what can be most discouraging is the lack of fight in some of one's allies, who urge playing it safe.

For some in public life, the time for political courage is always beyond the next election, and political capital is always to be hoarded. Real leaders like George W. Bush and the four reformers on the Tulsa City Council understand that God has given them their positions and powers for a purpose. Like Queen Esther, they have been placed where they are "for such a time as this," and they are intent on doing as much good as possible with the time and resources they have for those they are sworn to serve.

Blogger Lance Salyers saw the "play it safe" principle operating where he worked, and he lost sleep over it, because playing it safe where he worked can mean leaving a violent criminal free to harm someone else. In his entry, "I Hate Cowardice," Lance compared the timidity he witnessed to the unfaithful servant in Jesus' parable of the talents:

There's the pitiful servant, having done nothing with the opportunity that the Master gave him, and all he can come up with as his reason for failing to act? -- "I was afraid." Is there a more lame excuse? Probably, but from the perspective of where I am tonight, I'll take anything over being afraid to lose. Such a weak way to approach the job of doing what's right.

Citing Theodore Roosevelt's famed "in the arena" quote, Lance wrote:

Sadly, the work of doing Justice sometimes falls into the laps of "timid souls," who not only shrink from the hard and uncertain work of Duty, but have the audacity to wrap themselves up in an air of self-congratulatory smugness at their exercise of "responsible caution." And while the halls of the ivory tower bear witness to the solemn nods of other, like-minded souls with their reinforcing pronouncements of "Yes, it had to be done. Nothing you could do," the Small, the Weak, and the Victimized are left to fight Evil alone. Some fight, too: unfair to start, now Evil has the added upper-hand of having had the Powers That Be tell its Victim in no uncertain terms "You're not worth fighting for."

Lance posted that entry early Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, Lance Salyers was told he was being fired for posting that on his blog. Lance had been an assistant prosecutor in the criminal division of the Montgomery County, Ohio, Prosecutor's Office. Although Lance did not identify any specifics of the situation that inspired what he wrote and had never identified his place of employment on his blog or anywhere else on the Internet that I can find, a colleague recognized herself as the inspiration for the entry, took offense, and set about to get Lance fired.

Lance's situation escaped the notice of Dayton media, but it made this Sunday's New York Daily News column about blogs:

Last Monday, he said, he got a police report in preparation to review a prior decision to not press charges against an alleged rapist.

In investigating the refusal, he said, he called the prosecutor who had turned down the case. She said there was "not enough evidence to convict," Salyers wrote to me in an E-mail. ...

Salyers told me that the day his "I Hate Cowardice" entry appeared, his panel voted to take on the twice-refused case - and the case's original prosecutor was infuriated.

Lance contacted me by e-mail Thursday night, and we spoke by phone the following day. He had been assigned to a review panel -- a routine step when a decision is made not to prosecute a case -- and his research for that responsibility led to the events described above.

Since his firing, Lance has updated his blog, Ragged Edges, several times with the latest developments. A Dayton, Ohio, TV station got wind of his dismissal and interviewed him for a story that aired late Friday evening. He's also been under attack from a few cowardly anonymous commenters, on his blog and elsewhere, claiming to present inside information that discredits him. He has responded to the attacks with class and forthrightness. To back up his assertion that he had an unblemished record, he has posted every one of his performance reviews from his five years in the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office. (They're linked from his home page, on the sidebar, under the heading, "The Paper Trail.") (See UPDATE at top of this entry.)

I first became familiar with Lance and his blog by way of his comments on some theological threads on another blog. He struck me as someone passionate about the truth, who could make his points firmly and skillfully without being disagreeable. I got the same impression from his blog. His performance reviews back up that impression.

That someone with such an exemplary record would be canned for that blog entry suggests to me that something else was at work. The colleague who was offended by the decision to overturn her call evidently had enough pull with her superiors to get her revenge. It might have been reasonable to ask Lance to remove the post from his blog, but that option was never offered to him. He was told he could resign or be fired. Montgomery County's voters ought to wonder at the way the situation was handled.

As I wrote at the start, Dayton's loss could be Tulsa's gain. Lance has connections to Oklahoma -- he went to Oklahoma Baptist University and married a Tulsa girl, a graduate of Memorial High School. He and his wife had been thinking they'd like to move back so their baby girl could grow up near her grandparents. I think Tulsa County residents would be blessed to have Lance working for them to put the bad guys behind bars, and I think he'd fit in well with District Attorney Tim Harris's team. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Tim -- a devout Christian and someone willing to take risks to do the right thing.

Of course, if Lance were to imitate Tim Harris thoroughly, he might challenge his former boss in the next election. Tulsans will recall that Harris ran against then-DA Chuck Richardson and Judge Ned Turnbull in the 1998 Republican primary. Richardson was eliminated in the primary, and with significant grass-roots support Harris prevailed in the runoff. Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck, Jr., a Democrat, doesn't appear to be up for re-election until 2008, but the voters of that county, which has a murder rate twice the national average, might just prefer to have their prosecutor's office led by someone like Lance Salyers, who believes that it's worth taking risks to see to it that evildoers are punished.

I'll be keeping Lance and his family in my prayers, and I hope you will, too. I trust that God has bigger and better things in store for him.

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1 Comments

Dan Paden said:

This kind of thing concerns me because I hear from others that they not only are concerned that their employers might discipline them for what *they* write, but for what their spouses write, even if their names aren't mentioned! The concerns seem to be that the organization might be tarred by association, or that being married to someone with extreme views might indicate that the employee has extremist views, too--and who needs someone like *that* on the payroll? Too often, it seems that employers are looking for intelligent, creative, and aggressive employees, only they want them to come without opinions.

Thankfully, I work for an organization that is dominated by, for lack of a better term, the religious right, so I can happily write what I please without fear of retaliation. Not everyone is so blessed.

Kind words on the other post are always much appreciated!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 3, 2005 11:25 PM.

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