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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR JUSTICE?

This is really directed to those behind bars, or facing criminal charges, who are looking for justice and freedom. I pray this helps.

I write to you as one born of and to the law -- my father was an attorney and politician. Every meal was a discussion of law, government, and justice.

I write as one trained in the law -- I graduated from law school in 1966.

I write having practiced law, primarily litigation law, for 10 years; having served 5 years as judge of a criminal, juvenile, and civil court; and having served 3 years on the Indiana Board of Correction.

However, I was convicted, as judge, of criminal contempt of the Indiana Supreme Court, fined, and sentenced to jail (suspended). Charges of judicial misconduct were filed, and I faced loss of job ($42,000 per year) and loss of my license to practice law.

Let me give you some details of what caused all this. In April, 1976, Indiana changed the law, making an indeterminate 10 to 20 year sentence suspendable where it had been non-suspendable. But, the change would not take effect until July 1, 1977. In April, 1977, the date was changed to October 1st. On Sept. 15, 1977, a man broke the law and was caught. In Jan., 1978, he pled guilty.

I sentenced him to 5 months served plus 7 months to be served, and suspended the balance, declaring the non-suspendable portion of the law to be unconstitutional. The prosecutor appealed.

In Sept., 1978, the man was released, and began a process of meeting his victims (called Victim-Offender Reconciliation), and arranging restitution. He and his family were reconciled, his former boss, from whom he had stolen, hired him back.

In June, 1979, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the sentence and directed me to send the man back to prison. The man appeared, and asked for a 60 day continuance to research the law and present evidence of his rehabilitation. I granted the request. At the end of the 60 days, the prosecutor asked me to withdraw from the case -- for bias -- and I did so, for I was.

A special judge heard the evidence and read the law. He found the man rehabilitated, and ruled that to re-imprison him would be "manifestly unjust." However, the judge saw himself as bound to the order of the Indiana Supreme Court, and ordered re-imprisonment. He then allowed the man to remain free on bond to appeal the issues of rehabilitation and "manifest injustice".

In January, 1981, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal without ruling on any of the questions presented and declared all proceedings from June, 1979 forward to be a nullity. The man was returned to prison where he remained until April, 1983. The special judge and I were both charged with contempt.

Now, consider "justice" and what happened next.

First, change of venue is a statutory right in indirect contempt proceedings unless it is a charge by the Supreme Court. So no change of venue. Those who charged me would try me!

At the hearing, the Court opened by saying they had reviewed the record and that a prima facia showing of contempt existed so they did not have to introduce evidence or prove intent, motive, words or deeds, and that I stood guilty unless I could persuade them that they had made a mistake. I was guilty before trial!

As my attorney began to question me in my defense, the judges interrupted and did all the questioning for over an hour. I was prosecuted by those who judged me!

They convicted me and sentenced me without opportunity to speak concerning sentence, all by a 3 to 2 decision. But the law says the jury must be unanimous!

What acts were contemptuous?

I was convicted because I gave the 60 day continuance (a Constitutional right of the defendant) and because I removed myself from the case (a Constitutional right of the State).

There was no place to appeal this as a "matter of right". The U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept an appeal. Then, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered their employee to investigate my life as judge and, if appropriate, bring charges for my removal. The charges would be filed in the Indiana Supreme Court, their employee would prosecute, and the Indiana Supreme Court would make the decision!

I share all of this with you because I am just like you. All of my life, I believed in justice. I knew that the place where we find justice is in the law courts of the land. I knew and believed in the words of the Constitution: "We the people, in order to * * establish justice * *."

Yet, through 40 years of my life, I never found justice in the law, I seldom did justice as judge (although I did a lot of law), and I felt I was denied justice by the very law and system I was committed to uphold and defend.

I share these things because I know how you feel, for I used to feel all of these same things. I don't feel that way any more. I have found justice. In the finding, I have also found freedom.

Let me tell you why these things are true for me today, and maybe help you gain freedom.

At the same time the man was committing his crimes, God was telling me I was a sinner. But I knew that -- I drove too fast, drank too much, was addicted to gambling and smoking, fudged on my tax returns, and was a rotten father and husband. But I knew that, all in all, I wasn't a bad guy and that the good in my life outweighed the bad. I knew that God was a just judge and, when presented with the evidence, would rule that my good deeds were more and better then my bad deeds. I would get eternal life.

Two days before God and I had our "meeting", I sent a man to prison for life for the rape of a two year old. When we "met", God told me I was worse than that man and that all that I wanted to do to that man He wanted to do to me. God also explained to me that I would never be, in comparison to Him, "good".

Suddenly, I knew what a sinner was, that I was one, and that I needed a Savior. A person who merely sins can "work his way and overcome"; but a sinner is a character flaw which no amount of work will satisfy.

The apostle Paul was an attorney. He wrote (Rom. 3:19-22): "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes only the knowledge of sin. But, God sent the law and the prophets to witness to what His righteousness would be, that righteousness being through faith in Jesus Christ for all who will, in faith, believe."

If you have not seen yourself as a sinner -- leprous and rotting of flesh, mind and heart -- in need of a Savior; if you have not fallen on your face before God and asked Jesus Christ, God's Righteousness, to save you from your sins -- then you will never experience justice, or be free.

In November, 1981, I was $20,000 in debt for attorney fees, facing trial on the charges against me, snapping and snarling at all around me, angry, bitter, hateful, wanting to kill, scared, and totally out of control. Every moment was spent on plotting strategies to counteract any possible act of the Court. I echoed Solomon: "Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of righteousness there is wickedness." (Eccl. 3:16) and of Isaiah: "Thus He looked for justice, but beheld bloodshed; for righteousness, but beheld a cry of distress." (Is. 5:7)

Then I discovered some things.

One, because I am Christ's, I sit today at the right hand of God, in heaven -- Eph. 2:6 -- and you can't hurt me there. You can take all that I have, put me in prison, even kill me. But you can't hurt me or separate me from the love of God -- Rom. 8:38-39.

Second, Christ has things for me to do, which were prepared before hand that I might do them -- Eph. 2:10. I don't have to know what they are, for He will prepare me for them, prepare the path I shall walk, and set me in place when He is ready if I will seek Him and His Word and His Way. The works might not be as judge or attorney, but they are waiting.

Third, I do not have to vindicate myself and can trust the Lord to do that -- Is. 50:4-9; Mk. 13:11; I Pet. 2:23.

Fourth, I know that I do not need to feel condemned because of my past and that God can take the mistakes of my past and remold them for His glory as I learn to love Him and trust Him and walk by His commands -- Rom. 8:1,28; Psalms 119.

Fifth, I know what Revelation says: Jesus will return; Evil will be judged and overcome; God will establish His eternal kingdom; we win His crown.

But, for this to happen, there was one thing I had to do -- I had to grant Christ the position of Lord in my life. I had to make Him boss. I had to let Him rule and make the decisions. And, I had to be obedient to His Word, regardless of how insane the Word seemed to be, regardless of friends calling me a fool, and regardless of the consequences.

You will never find justice and freedom until you make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life and commit to seeking out His Word and obeying It in your current circumstance.

I gave Jesus my job as judge, telling Him that if He wanted me to have it much longer He had some work to do. I also gave Him my license to practice law, and told Him that if He didn't want me to practice law, just do nothing -- but that I would expect Him to tell me what to do after I was no longer an attorney. I gave Him my life, the life of my family, and all of our possessions, to use, abuse, or throw away as He might decide.

AND I WAS FREE AND HAVE BEEN FREE FROM THAT MOMENT FORTH! (That does not mean that I don't fret, fear, bark and snarl. I still do what I don't want to do, and I don't do all the things I ought to do -- Rom. 7:15,19 -- but it does mean I am free wherever I am.)

The first person to call me a fool was my attorney, for I fired him that same day -- Mk. 13:11. The prosecutor was the second for I told him I would offer no witnesses on my own behalf, nor ask questions of witnesses whom he would call. I said I would appear and answer any questions asked of me.

But, I was free and, more importantly, at peace with the law for the first time in my life. Suddenly, I knew that I knew that I could never look for justice at law, and should not expect justice from the law, and that no one else should, either. I knew that the law and legal system cannot "do justice". They can only make "legal decisions".

Do not get me wrong -- we must have laws and legal systems or we would have chaos. And the laws of the U.S. are pretty good. Today, I respect the law and those involved in it -- but I do not expect something from it -- justice -- which it never has and never will be able to give. I have discovered that Pro. 29:26 is true: "Many may seek the favor of the ruler -- judge, jury, warden, parole board, governor, etc. -- but justice for man comes only from the Lord."

In December, 1981, the Lord told me to resign as judge. I did so and, to my surprise they dropped all the charges. So, I went back to the practice of law. But, something was different. I started to see the lack of freedom within my clients. And I wanted them to have the freedom I had found. So I began to minister Jesus Christ to them. I found myself being a minister of reconciliation who happened to do ministry as an lawyer (II Cor. 5:17-20).

In August, 1983, the Lord called me away from the practice of law entirely, and moved us to Minnesota, where I began teaching and assisting Christians who were in legal or relational disputes to turn away from the law courts and bring their conflict to the churches where the wise-in-the-Lord and gifted (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:4-11,18; Eph. 4:11-13) women and men of the Body of Christ can help decide matters and bring healing and reconciliation into conflict and chaos (I Cor. 6:1-8; Matt. 5:21-26; Matt. 18:12-35).

I began to see justice being done. I found that it required sacrifices: time, emotional protective mechanisms, rights, remedies, and, sometimes, even property and monies, not just from the parties in conflict but from those who were serving them as peacemakers.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised -- the resolution of the dispute between God and man, and the potential for reconciliation of God and man, cost God the Son, Jesus Christ, His very life. He chose to die for us while we were still sinners. And He chose to die for us knowing that we would, after accepting His gift, sin again. But, evidently, relationship is very important to God. And, if it is important to God, it must be important to us, for we are made in Their image -- God the Father willing to sacrifice that which He loved and valued most; God the Son willing to die; and God the Holy Spirit willing to live in the hearts and bear the burdens of the murderers who would confess their sins and repent of heart.

Therefore, without taking into account relationship, there can be no justice. And the law and legal system can never take relationship into account. But I still had not found total justice. I knew that I was to "do justice" -- Micah 6:8; that it was more pleasing to the Lord than a sacrifice -- Pro. 21:3; that we do not "do" justice through forms of worship -- Amos 5:21-24; that our own sins inhibit justice -- Is. 59:1-15a; and that if we are to have peace and justice we must amend our ways -- Jer. 7:5-7.

It was late in 1984, three years after granting Him lordship and one year after entering full-time ministry. I was weeding through papers accumulated as judge, looking to throw things away and gain some file space. I found and read the transcript of the contempt hearing. I was shocked at the "me" it revealed. My honesty has always been important to me. Yet, for over an hour in that courtroom, I had ducked, bobbed evaded, and even lied to the judges.

All they wanted to know was: Did I have contempt in my heart for them and the law? I had steadfastly denied that. But, the truth was that I did have contempt all the way through November, 1981. I had no attitude of subjection towards the law or rulers (Rom. 13:1-7).

The command of God was very clear: "Confess your sins, one to another, and pray for each other, that you may be healed" (Jas. 5:16) and: "Bring forth fruits of repentance" (Lk. 3:8). Back in Indiana, there were 5 judges whom I had wronged, to whom I needed to confess my faults, and from whom I needed to seek forgiveness. Those judges, however, held my license to practice law still under their control. But God left me no choice -- I had counted the cost (Lk. 14:25-35) and made the decision (Joshua 24:14-15).

I wrote confessing and asked forgiveness. I never received a response to that letter. As far as I know, I still have a license to practice law in Indiana; but, then, maybe not; it doesn't matter. One funny thing did happen -- it used to be that if I would talk about the details of this matter, I would cry; I don't cry any more! I have attained a higher level of freedom. And I received my justice from the Lord -- a deeper peace and trust in Him -- and I got a new understanding of how we attain and receive justice.

And so, on nothing more than the strength of God's Word and my testimony, I ask you some questions you may not have been asked before:

WHY ARE YOU HERE AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE ABOUT THE ACTS WHICH GOT YOU HERE? Have you confessed to those whom you have wronged -- victims, family, community? Have you displayed fruits of repentance by ceasing to demand justice and, instead, have you begun doing justice? Are you still complaining about how you were wronged, or dealt a raw deal in life, by a parent or by the law? Do you think you got too much time?

Or, have you said, are you willing to say now, to God and your fellow men: "Lord, only I am to blame. I chose to do the acts I did. I knew they were wrong when I did them. I knew they were sins against You and others. Forgive me. I know that I am accountable to You and to them for what I have done. I know I am worthy of death from You, O God, and praise You that, in Your grace and mercy, You have seen fit to allow me life, and that abundant and eternal. I give You thanks for this prison, and the sentence I have, and know that You will, in Your time and way, work even this to Your glory as I turn my life over to You. If You have works for me to do, here in this prison, I am willing to be used by You to do them. Finally, O Lord, I commit to write to each person I have wronged, or held a wrong attitude towards, confessing my sins against them and seeking their forgiveness, offering to meet with them here in prison, or on the street after I am out, to discuss restitution. I do these things, O God, in love of You Who first loved me, and in hopes that, through this act of faith, You may bring reconciliation between me and those whom I have hurt and that You receive the glory. Amen."

Yes, this is risky. You may have to drop an appeal, because your confession ends your arguments. But, the one thing which the system wants to see, and is prevented from seeing by our self-protective games, is repentance. What the authorities do after they see repentance, no one knows. But Christ may return tonight.