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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION

Peers on Bench, Brothers and Sisters in Faith

March 03, 2001|WILLIAM LOBDELL

Herein is a transcript of the deposition of three Orange County Superior Court judges--Francisco F. Firmat, Nancy Wieben Stock and David T. McEachen--taken by a journalist who received his only legal training from watching "Ally McBeal." The notes were scribbled on a note pad between bites of a roasted turkey sandwich at Wolfgang Puck in Orange. Therefore, for the record, let said journalist state that for dramatic purposes--not unlike a TV movie--the judges' quotes have been all mushed together and then smoothed into a single voice. And whereas the three jurists are intimately familiar with libel law, the information--though mushed together--is accurate.

Is it not true that the legal profession has a poor reputation?

About the same as journalism.

Move to strike, nonresponsive. Let's move to some basic facts. You are members of Daniel's Inn, correct?

Correct.

Ah ha! And what exactly is Daniel's Inn?

Daniel's Inn was started in 1993 for Christian judges and attorneys of all denominations in Orange County.

And why was it established?

So we could meet with our peers--people we had great respect for--and learn more about our shared faith. We support each other. And we pray for each other.

Can you explain the name "Daniel's Inn"?

The Inns of Court, established in medieval England, is a place where more experienced judges and lawyers extend their hand to younger attorneys. And in the Bible, Daniel worked in a secular setting that didn't value his faith--and ultimately he was thrown to the lions. So the name "Daniel's Inn" works on a couple of levels.

Is it not true that the legal world can be called a lion's den?

Yes. It can be a gladiator-type profession.

So can you be both a good attorney and good Christian?

A lot of lawyers worried about that. They wonder if they can represent their clients properly and still live by their Christian principles. We've found they can.

Can you cite a single example?

Here's one. Judge Firmat often talks about how he feels called to a role as a peacemaker, to help people trapped in what he calls the "black hole of pain." After the conclusion of a recent gut-wrenching trial--but before the jury verdict came--he walked down from the bench and approached both the plaintiff and defendant with words of encouragement and solace.

How many people are involved in Daniel's Inn?

We started with a half-dozen judges and attorneys in 1993 and will get more than 100 people at our annual conference today in Orange, where we'll continue our theme, "You Are Not Alone."

Then you're implying that the legal profession can be lonely.

Of course. Attorneys are pitted against each other as adversaries. And they don't believe they can show any weakness. Daniel's Inn tries to give them a little peace in their week, an oasis, a place where they can open up in a setting of intimacy where they know nothing will leave the room.

Isn't it a fact that you have no leader?

We have no leader, no finances and very few rules.

And you'll admit that this is unusual for attorneys?

Yes.

Exactly! Ah, why is that?

No one wants Daniel's Inn to become just another organization with rules and regulations.

Do you or do you not have more meetings than just your annual conference?

We do. We've divided Daniel's Inn into four regions, which roughly mirror the four courts of Orange County--central, north, south and west. Each region holds a monthly. And we have special programs throughout the year.

Why is Daniel's Inn important?

We have a lot of attorneys and judges in this county for whom their faith is very important. But as a group, they are very silent about it. They don't connect with each other. Daniel's Inn is meant to better connect them so their faith isn't limited to 10 to 11 on Sundays--or 11:15 if the church is serving doughnuts.

Give me some highlights from your mission statement.

We "desire to submit ourselves to obediently listen to God's will." We meet "with open hearts" and "allow the holy spirit to work in us and with us. . . . Our mission is soul size."

That sounds bold. Isn't it true that there's a danger of injecting Christian beliefs into a secular legal system?

Not for us. Our faith is who we are. We don't feel compelled to put a copy of the Ten Commandments on our courtroom wall. We don't want to wear our faith on our sleeve as a badge to identify yourselves for any gain. We just want to live out our faith.

The Daniel's Inn sixth annual conference is today from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at St. Joseph's Center, 480 S. Batavia, Orange. The cost is $35 and includes breakfast, lunch and a copy of speaker Gary Haugen's book, "Good News About Injustice."

William Lobdell is the religion reporter-editor for The Times' Orange County edition. His column runs Saturdays. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com.

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