New National Program to "temporarily transform churches into courthouses"
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 12:53:34 AM EST
"Congress Finds The Following: (1) Fugitive Safe Surrender is a program of the United States Marshal's service, in partnership with public, private, and faith based organizations, which "temporarily transforms a church into a courthouse..." ( from Senate Bill S.2570, that authorized 16 million dollars for a three year implementation of the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program )

In the September 26, 2006 print edition of New Jersey Lawyer an editorial described "a rather extraordinary exchange" between [New Jersey] Chief Justice Deborah Poritz and U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie"* during which "The U.S. attorney requested -seemingly demanded- that the state set up court in churches for the purpose of arraigning fugitives" under the planned national "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program announced one year ago, to media fanfare, and then postponed last August, now slated to launch in mid 2007, that would give federal grants to churches for encouraging fugitive felons to turn themselves in; "arraignments would then be conducted in church, by judges, with the participation of law enforcement officers and public defenders. These arrests would involve bail hearings that would lead to the arrest of some defendants." A Cleveland television station that promoted the program's 2005 Ohio pilot mentioned that "ministers will act as advocates" for surrendering fugitives, but so far the New Jersey Lawyer editorial is anomalous among the almost uniformly enthusiastic media coverage "Fugitive Safe Survivor" has received.

[image, left: Massachusetts Puritans demonstrate their faith-based judicial system] However, the planned and funded US Marshal's service program features more than an historic reversal of centuries of US legal tradition by resurrecting something akin to the tradition of "church court" - the authorship of the program has blurred lines between the public and private, between government and business, almost to the point of obliteration, and possible conflicts of interest may help explain why the US Marshals Service has recently scrubbed information from its website that - until yesterday - promoted a private business, associated with the program authors, which has actually trademarked the name 'Fugitive Safe Surrender™ '.
In this period could be found a whole network of some three or four hundred ecclesiastical courts whose activities affected many aspects of our ancestors' lives. Just as we have a hierarchy of courts from the local Magistrates' Court to the County Court, the Central Criminal Court to the Courts of Appeal, there was a similar hierarchy of the church - BBC documentary on the history of church courts in Great Britain
The conflict between Justice Poritz and attorney Christie was the first indication that any in the legal community might be less than fully enthusiastic about such a literal blurring of lines between church and state. Citing technical concerns Poritz refused Christie's request, but the aggressive efforts of US attorney Christie indicate that the program is very much alive although it seems to be proceeding quietly for now. "Fugitive Safe Surrender" was scheduled to launch in August 2006, then an August 17th 2006 Akron Beacon Journal story headline announced "Fugitive Surrender Called Off". But, the body of that story contradicted its headline and explained that the program had not been actually cancelled but simply postponed until next year:
"We weren't 100 percent ready to go, so I made the decision to hold off,'' said U.S. Marshal Peter J. Elliott of the Northern District of Ohio. "We're still waiting for the funding to come in. But we are still going to offer the program in the future. We're targeting June."
Money had actually already been approved. Matching bills to fund the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program were passed by Congress earlier this year and on August 1, 2006 George W. Bush signed a bill funding the program into law: Meanwhile, on August 1, 2006 :
President Bush signed the Children's Safety and Violent Crime Reduction Act of 2005 that toughens sentences for child predators and improves the tracking of child sex crime offenders. The bill also includes $16 million for three years for the Fugitive Safe Surrender program based on a pilot program in Cleveland, Ohio in which churches are temporarily transformed into courthouses where fugitives can turn themselves in to federal marshals. The funding will help expand the program to eight cities.
So, the national launch of the US Marshals Service program seems likely despite apparent establisment clause violations inherent in the language of matching bills sponsored by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones ( D-Ohio ) and Senator Mike DeWine ( R-Ohio ) that described a program which "temporarily transforms a church into a courthouse...".
"Congress Finds The Following: (1) Fugitive Safe Surrender is a program of the United States Marshal's service, in partnership with public, private, and faith based organizations, which "temporarily transforms a church into a courthouse..." ( from Senate Bill S.2570, that authorized 16 million dollars for a three year implementation of the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program )

[ image, left: detail from "Examination of a Witch", Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853] Beyond Establishment Clause concerns, the origin and implementation of the program is a dense conflict of interest tangle even to the point of absurdity. According to a webpage from a US Marshals Service website that appears to have been scrubbed today, October 28, 2006 but which is still accessible via its Google cache, the term "Fugitive Safe Surrender" has been trademarked by "DC Strategic Services, LLC", an entity incorporated in 2002 by Douglas S. Weiner, former Criminal Division Chief of Ohio's Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and who appears to have played a very significant role in the creation of the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program.
You can partner with us. You'll work directly with other key decision makers - DC Strategic Services

DC Strategic Services advertises on its website that "We bring leaders together - elected and appointed officials, senior executives, clergy, university professors and community advocates - to develop, fund and sustain cutting-edge projects that protect America".
The company specializes, unsuprisingly, in the area of law enforcement and offers a comprehensive package:

First, we develop winning proposals - grants, cooperative agreements, earmarks - to secure start-up funding.... We then stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners during implementation... with award-winning results.... when start-up funding ends, we work to secure new revenue streams to sustain these vital initiatives...

DC Strategic Services is not shy ; the company works on a national scale, it says, with the U.S. Marshals Service, mayors, and the US legal systems apparently within its field of influence:  

Our projects are national in scope, and implemented either nationwide, statewide or locally.They're led by the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorneys, mayors, prosecuting attorneys, county sheriffs and police chiefs... to name just a few.

Although the  new US Marshals Service website for the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program states the program is the sole creation of "Peter J. Elliott, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio", DC Strategic Services' seemingly grandiose claims are supported by information that was very recently scrubbed from two web pages on the previous US Marshals Service website describing the "Fugitive Safe Survivor" program. While the new "Fugitive Safe Surrender" website provides a contact number in the US Office of Congressional Affairs for the safe surrender program, the old, scrubbed website gave DC Strategic Services and its CEO Douglas S. Weiner a primary role:

The United States Marshals Service in Washington, D.C. is leading the implementation of Fugitive Safe Surrender across America, and DC Strategic Partners is directing the project's expansion.

Community leaders - i.e. city, county and state government officials; clergy; senior executives (private and nonprofit); and university researchers - who would like to bring Fugitive Safe Surrender to their city may directly contact their district's U.S. Marshal, or email Douglas S. Weiner, J.D., CEO of DC Strategic Partners at

[ image: scrubbed US Marshal's Service web page ]

To be continued.....

*The unfriendly exchange between Poritz and Christie was, as the New Jersey Lawyer editorial notes, Christie's second attempt to gain approval to bring the "Safe Fugitive" program to New Jersey. In February 2006 Justice Poritz had turned down an earlier request for clearance by Christie, and the second attempts was, as the New Jersey Lawyer editorial describes, somewhat less than collegial ; "The U.S. attorney general, in tones which seemed petulant and querulous, chastised the chief justice for  invoking legal technicalities." The editorial also notes reports that Christie will try again with Poritz' successor after Poritz retires in October.

The name safe surrender itself indicates that there is a lack of safety in surrendering to the US judicial system (which may be a justified viewpoint, but it doesn't justify giving churches that much power).  If the preachers want to be advocates, they can accompany the wanted individuals to the police station or the courthouse.  

My concern is what happens after this- it starts with "safe surrender" but where does it go?

How long would this last before the fundies start pushing for the right to judge people in the churches?  From that point it is a small step to judging people according to their religious views rather than according to the law.  

IMO, this is an obvious step towards a theocracy.

I'd like to see a clearer breakdown of the bill funding this atrocity done here at TTA.   This is the first time I've heard about this, and it worries me.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 11:59:07 AM EST

Undocumented Mexican worker and immigration activist Elvira Arellano and her seven year old American-born son have sought refuge in a Chicago church since August to avoid a deportation order.

Immigration activist Elvira Arellano said Saturday she will remain holed up in a church in an effort of avoid deportation even though a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against the government.

The lawsuit contended deporting Arellano would effectively deport her son Saul, who is a U.S. citizen, and would be a violation of his rights. U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve ruled Friday, that although the 7-year-old would face hardships, they weren't of constitutional magnitude.

Arellano, 31, and her son have been living at the Adalberto United Methodist Church since mid-August to avoid deportation.

"I want to stay here with my son," Arellano said in Spanish. "I'm not just fighting for my can't separate families."

Church pastor the Rev. Walter L. Coleman, who filed the lawsuit in August for Arellano, says she will continue working on all three branches of government to find a way to stay in the U.S. They are in contact with other families in similar situations and are considering filing a class action lawsuit, he said.

Coleman said he is not concerned federal officials will enter the church to remove Arellano.

"We fear God more than we fear Homeland Security," he said.

And although the feds say that nothing prevents their going into the church, and that they will arrest Arellano "at a time and place of our choosing," she and Saul are still there, living in an upstairs apartment.


by moiv on Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 05:39:10 PM EST

But moving the legal system into churches cuts the opposite way, I suspect, from what one might think :

"Fugitive Safe Surrender" will establish a precedent that it's OK for arrests to happen within churches, and so it will degrade the historical tradition of churches and places of worship as sanctuary.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 07:01:42 PM EST

It looks like they're trying, for whatever reason, to resurrect the old idea of churches as sanctuaries for fugitives.  Also, what do they mean by ministers acting as advocates?  Isn't a legal advocate known as a lawyer?  Would ministers have the proper training necessary to perform this function?

by jarandhel on Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 06:52:27 PM EST
I posted a link to this story on a message board that I go to, and someone there thought of another potential problem that could occur with ministers acting as advocates, and posted the following:

"[I]magine a federal murder case where a fugitive is arraigned in a church, represented by a priest, and then later at his trial, his lawyer claims that he was denied his right to an attorney when he was arraigned."

by Chris Rodda on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 11:52:37 AM EST

Would be advocates in the legal or sense or, well....."Spiritual advocates".

"Advocates" could have been a sloppy and unfortunate choice of words. Or not. We may, unfortunately, soon find out.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 10:34:12 PM EST

I gave this to my husband to read and he got as far as '842 individuals surrendered' during a four day period based on an advertising campaign.

Something doesn't sound right there.

by Brainbelle on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 02:00:25 PM EST

Two weeks after the grand "felon surrender" US Marshal Elliott conducted the largest criminal sweep in Cuyahoga county history and rounded up sixty or seventy subjects...

Was news of the impending roundup somehow telegraphed in advance to plump up the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" pilot ? Local media was very sympathetic to the program and the timing was a bit suspicious.

Meanwhile, official accounts of the roundup stress the large number apprehended but in the subtext  - despite the characterization of the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program as a pilot program focused on "public safety" - the fine print of reporting reveals that all of 6 violent criminals turned themselves in.

It would be useful to have examples of advertising in the leadup to the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" Cleveland pilot - which seems to have included vague promises of leniency for those who turned themselves in to "faith based" justice. What, exactly, was promised ?

There are many questions swirling around this push for "church courts".

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 08:42:44 PM EST

With which the justice dept. seems to be promoting the "Fugitive Safe Surrender" program I do have to wonder about the "miraculous" success of the pilot program.

The success of many of the other "faith based" initiatives that seem at first promising has melted away with scrutiny and time.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 10:40:45 PM EST

This is a creative and innovative solution to a pressing problem. The new national program to "temporarily transform churches into courthouses" is a great way to ensure that access to the justice system is maintained during this time of crisis.  Dating Websites This program will help provide much needed relief to the already overburdened court system and provide the public with an important service they can rely on. It is an inspired solution that will benefit both the courts and our communities.

by isabelladom on Sun Jan 29, 2023 at 02:17:19 PM EST

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