Posted June 12, 2009
On June 8, Reverend Edward Pinkney’s case was brought before the Third District Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tim Holloway, who has represented Rev. Pinkney since 2006, was joined by several attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, among them Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael Steinberg. Nearly 50 of Pinkney’s supporters filled the courtroom to capacity while dozens more, including this reporter, waited outside.
Reverend Edward Pinkney and his wife, Dorothy Pinkney
Meanwhile, Reverend Pinkney himself was barred from attending the appeal hearing. Although the Michigan Supreme Court had granted him bond pending appeal, it was left to Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Wiley to set the bond amount. Until Rev. Pinkney could produce $10,000 in cash, Wiley ruled that he be electronically tethered and kept on 24/7 lockdown in his home.
When Steinberg on behalf of the ACLU protested Wiley’s harsh ruling and insisted that the defendant had a right to attend his own appeal hearing, the Berrien County judge stonewalled. According to Steinberg, among the reasons Wiley gave for refusing to let Rev. Pinkney appear at the appeal hearing in Grand Rapids was that “he has a criminal record.” It should be noted that criminal records are quite common among people appealing felony convictions.
Two briefs were filed at the June 8 hearing. The first, presented by Tim Holloway, called for Rev. Pinkney’s 2007 conviction by an all white jury to be overturned.
After a mistrial in 2006 on trumped-up charges of electoral fraud, Rev. Pinkney was convicted in March 2007 for the crime of delivering to a polling place an absentee ballot that did not belong to him. Under Michigan law, touching another person’s absentee ballot is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. (For more information on Rev. Pinkney’s trial, see “Framing Rev. Pinkney,” ATC 128, May-June 2007)
The second brief, presented by ACLU attorney Jim Walsh, related to an additional sentence imposed upon Rev. Pinkney for an article published in the November/December 2007 issue of the People’s Tribune newspaper. In the article, Rev. Pinkney paraphrases the Book of Deuteronomy:
Judge Butzbaugh, it shall come to pass; if thou continue not to hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all that is right; which I command thee this day, that all these Curses shall come upon you and your family, curses shalt be in the City of St. Joseph and Cursed shalt thou be in the field, cursed shall come upon you and your family and over take thee; cursed shall be the fruit of thy body. The Lord shall smite thee with consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning. They the demons shall Pursue thee until thou persist.
Interpreting this Biblical prophecy as a direct threat to his fellow judge’s personal safety, Judge Wiley sentenced Rev. Pinkney to an additional three to ten years in prison for his article.
Addressing Rev. Pinkney’s supporters after the hearing, Steinberg summarized the ACLU team’s arguments on behalf of Rev. Pinkney – that, under the constitution, “a person can’t be thrown in prison for expressing his religious beliefs and for criticizing a judge.” He went on to call it a “tremendous miscarriage of justice” that Rev. Pinkney was not allowed to be present at his own hearing.
A written decision on both motions is pending.
Rev. Edward Pinkney, “Corrupt judge denies new jury trial in Pinkney case.”