Judge’s dismissal of harassment charge goes viral

Feb 28, 2012, 9:50 PM

Associated Press

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (AP) – A central Pennsylvania judge who came under fire for throwing out a harassment case against a Muslim man accused of accosting an atheist activist who dressed as a zombie version of the Prophet Mohammed in a Halloween parade said Tuesday he would not do anything differently.

Mechanicsburg District Judge Mark Martin said many of the hundreds of calls he has received in the week or so since the alleged victim posted an audiotape of the December trial online are acting on the mistaken assumption that he is Muslim.

The uproar led the court system on Tuesday to temporarily move Martin as a security precaution to the county courthouse in Carlisle, about 10 miles from his regular courthouse in the Harrisburg suburbs.

On the audio, Martin appears to tell the purported victim, Ernest Perce V, that he is a Muslim, and that Perce’s actions were “very, very, very offensive” to the faith. Martin said Tuesday he was trying to make the point that people who are Muslim would be offended, an opinion based on the Army reservist lieutenant colonel’s two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Most of the complaints he’s fielded suggest he went easy on Talaag Elbayomy as a fellow Muslim, and argue he should have recused himself, Martin said.

“In actuality, I’m a Christian,” Martin, a Lutheran, told The Associated Press. “Does that mean I should recuse myself in all cases that involve Christians?”

Martin said he dismissed the case for lack of evidence after Elbayomy testified that the confrontation was not physical, an apparent contradiction of what he told police the day of the parade. Court records spelled his first name Talaag, an online listing had Talaat and Perce’s video called him Talaaq.

Before he ruled, Martin told Perce he had misrepresented tenets of Islam, which made him “look like a doofus.”

“It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others,” Martin said on the audiotape. “I don’t think that’s what our forefathers really intended.”

Perce, Pennsylvania director of the group American Atheists, said he’s received more than 500 death threats in recent days. He marched in the parade along with a man dressed as a zombie pope.

“When it came to the judge telling me I was way outside the bounds of freedom of speech, my immediate thought at this point was, `Whose side are you on? You’re a soldier. Whose side are you fighting for?'” Perce said Monday.

Martin said the First Amendment permitted Perce to act as he did.

“What I was trying to convey to him was, just because you can say or do something, doesn’t always mean you should,” Martin said.

Perce said his status as an atheist seemed to play a part in the case.

“I can’t believe that in America a person gets attacked, and then they get called a doofus, ridiculed on the stand, like I’m a piece of garbage because of my lack of belief,” Perce said.

Elbayomy’s lawyer, R. Mark Thomas, said there was no physical or circumstantial evidence to support Perce’s claim that Elboymay tried to pull off his fake beard and a sign he wore around his neck.

Both men contacted police immediately _ in Elboymay’s case because he did not realize that it is not a crime to ridicule his religion’s chief prophet.

“The judge dressed (Perce) down, (and) as far as I was concerned, that was the right thing to do,” Thomas said. “This guy was obviously the antagonist.”

Sam Stretton, a West Chester lawyer who has defended judges accused of misconduct, and who writes and speaks regularly on judicial ethics, said he advises judges to avoid discussions outside the matters in front of them.

“I always tell judges, look, decide cases, but you’re under no obligation to explain in detail what’s going on,” he said.

Martin’s discussion of religion might not be bad advice in another context, Stretton said.

“The problem is when you’re saying it with a judicial robe on,” he said. “But it’s not the worst thing to say.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Two people hug after a shooting at the John W. Harshbarger Building on the University of Arizona ca...
Associated Press

Ex-grad student held in Arizona professor’s fatal shooting

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A former University of Arizona graduate student arrested in the fatal shooting of a hydrology professor was being held without bond Friday after a judge ruled there was enough evidence to try him on charges of first degree murder and aggravated assault. An interim complaint in the case released Friday says […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, speaks to ...
Associated Press

Flynn, Gingrich testimony sought in Georgia election probe

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia prosecutor investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to interfere in the 2020 election filed paperwork Friday seeking to compel testimony from a new batch of Trump allies, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Immigrants seeking asylum who were recently reunited arrive at a hotel in San Antonio, July ...
Associated Press

Families separated at border push back on new evaluations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Parents suing after being separated from their children at the U.S-Mexico border are pushing back against a Justice Department effort to require additional psychological evaluations to measure how much the U.S. policy traumatized them, court documents show. The effect of the Trump-era policy that was maligned as inhumane by political and religious […]
16 hours ago
First lady Jill Biden gestures while meeting with medical professionals and students during a visit...
Associated Press

Jill Biden: ‘How could we go back?’ after Roe is overturned

Jill Biden on Friday used the story of how one of her teenage friends ended a pregnancy at a time when abortion was illegal, including being declared mentally unfit, to illustrate what she says is at stake for women in November’s elections. “How could we go back to that time?” the first lady asked in […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., is pictured on July 16, 2013. The ...
Associated Press

VUMC to pause, review gender-affirming surgeries for minors

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced Friday that they are pausing gender-affirming surgeries for minors in order to review their practices. The news, delivered in a letter sent to a lawmaker who has demanded an end to the surgeries, was publicly released Friday afternoon. It comes amid mounting political pressure […]
16 hours ago
FILE - In this May 24, 2019, photo, teachers and students from Northwest Montessori School in Seatt...
Associated Press

Gray whale population off western U.S. continues to decline

SEATTLE (AP) — U.S. researchers say the number of gray whales off western North America has continued to fall over the last two years, a decline that resembles previous population swings over the past several decades. According to an assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries released Friday, the most recent count put […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Judge’s dismissal of harassment charge goes viral