Expunging Criminal Records and Domestic Violence – Some Rules On Domestic Violence Records

Florida treats the crime of domestic violence (“DV”) in a distinct manner from other crimes. Floridians accused of DV typically go before specialized DV judges within the criminal court system (most counties have” domestic violence divisions”), are prosecuted by district attorneys who try only DV cases, and are subject to different rules of criminal procedure (for example, in many cases a person can bond out of jail after an arrest prior to seeing a judge, but this is not an option in DV arrests). It should come as no surprise, then, that the laws governing Florida record sealing or expungement also single out domestic violence arrests for special treatment.

The Florida statutes define domestic violence as any “assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.” “Family” or “household member” are terms given rather broad meanings under Florida law, and include: spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married. With the exception of persons who have a child in common, the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit. So if you get into an argument with your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend that you used to live with….guess what? You can be arrested for domestic battery instead of simple battery. Same thing with a parent of your child, whether you ever lived together or not.

Good news first. If you are arrested for DV, but the charges against you are later dropped, never filed, or dismissed, you caneligible for Florida expungement, assuming you meet all other eligibility requirements. However, if the prosecutor decides to proceed against you, that DV arrest will remain on your record forever, unless you are acquitted at trial. Usually, if you meet all other eligibility requirements, you can seal a Florida record if you receive a withholding of adjudication after entering a no contest or guilty plea. Many arrestees, after twenty, thirty, sixty days or more sitting in custody awaiting trial, opt to plea, take a deal, and be released from jail (the criminal justice system is not known for moving quickly). Most deals offered are usually “time served” with adjudication withheld. In the case of simple battery or assault, this would be a good deal in terms of Florida expungement, because you could get out of jail(!), not risk going to trial if the evidence against you is strong, and later seal your record.

However, what is often not communicated by public defenders and even many private attorneys is that if you plead guilty or no contest to a DV charge, even a misdemeanor DV charge, you can never have your record sealed or expunged, whether or not adjudication is withheld. Under the Florida expungement statutes, domestic violence is listed as an “ineligible offense,” meaning any plea to a DV charge will automatically make you ineligible to seal or expunge the record.

While deterring domestic violence is a good public policy, permanently affecting someone’s life in this manner can be excessive, especially since there is no judicial remedy to address unjust results. Imagine that you get into a fight with your live-in partner. Things get heated and you are arguing loudly. Your neighbors call the police. Before the police arrive, you end up dumping your glass of water on your partner’s head. Not a nice thing to do, admittedly. But when the police arrive, they arrest you for domestic violence. You plea to misdemeanor domestic battery, time served and adjudication withheld. Now you are stuck with that arrest on your record forever. Any background check that is run in connection with a job search, apartment search, loan application, etc. will reveal that you are a perpetrator of domestic violence. Do you think you will get the chance to explain that it was only a one-time incident and only a glass of water…?

Please keep in mind, however, a lot of people are arrested for domestic battery and then plea down to simple battery and get adjudication withheld on that charge. Then you may eligible to seal under Florida law. It is the charge that you ultimately plea to and have adjudication withheld on, not your arrest charge, that determines your eligibility for record sealing and expungement. Also, it may happen that you are arrested and charged for domestic violence for a fight with a significant other, when you have never lived together. Challenge it and fight it if you don’t fall under the domestic violence statutory definitions of “family member” or “household member”- if you don’t, it can have long reaching consequences for your life and future.

Pre-Crime Law and Surveillance – What is the Real Deal On That?

It is widely known that in the United States you cannot arrest someone without a probable cause, and you’re not even allowed to detain them. That’s the rules we have to protect freedom and liberty in our great nation. Of course, over the last decade, and in the age of international terrorism, some folks are trying to rethink some of these things in order to protect our citizens. That’s why we have The Department of Homeland Security or DHS.

There was an interesting article in Homeland Security Online News recently which was published on June 9, 2011 in the law enforcement technology category, the title of the article was “A Machine That Predicts Crime,” and the article stated;

“The very effort by individuals who are intent on committing a crime to mask their intent has detectable physiological manifestations; it should thus be possible to build a sensor which would identify these manifestations and correlate them with the underlying malintent.”

It is estimated by the intelligence industrial complex that such surveillance systems in airports could help profile problematic individuals, and potential terrorists. The name of this technology is called “Future Attribute Screening Technology” or FAST, and there is real science behind this. You see people who act nervous, or walk a certain way, or act a certain way will often tip off by their behavior and their future intent to do harm, steal, or commit a terrorist act.

Anyone who has ever “people watched” knows that there are subtle signs that people make when they are shady characters. Having an electronic surveillance system which picks up such minor clues to future behavior could save lives. Of course, unfortunately it sounds a lot like the “Pre-Crime Division” which was depicted in the famous Hollywood movie with Tom cruise; “Minority Report” -and therefore there are sure to be critics, even if this electronic profiling system works great.

Now then, if a terrorist is stopped at an airport for suspicious behavior, and detained, and then it is later found out that they had criminal intent, that case could be thrown out because they were stopped without probable cause. Theoretically, even if it was an electronic system that did the profiling, we still know that, this is beyond the rules of our criminal justice laws.

There will be some interesting case law that comes forth in the future as more and more these systems are integrated into airport terminals, train stations, bus stations, and in other places such as government buildings in the future. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it, specifically the ramifications to criminal law.

Antitrust Law – How David Can Beat Goliath in the Marketplace

Renata Hesse from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR) is with me for this interview about US antitrust law. Renata is a high-powered antitrust attorney who has been in the middle of some of the biggest antitrust cases in US history including the massive Microsoft antitrust case of the 1990’s.

I have found WSGR to be a great law firm to work with and they have helped me on a number of critical issues. My brother Matthew, who some of you have met, works for WSGR also on antitrust issues as in-house counsel at Google.

I’m often surprised by seemingly smart internet companies making a lot of money have really poor legal representation. I think its a competitive advantage to have a great law firm on your side like these guys. They can be difficult to be accepted as a client (they normally represent companies like Google), so if you do want to switch your law firm and you know me personally, drop me a line and we can talk offline.

Antitrust can come across as dry and boring – but in fact it can be a great way for a small company to beat a larger company in the market. Netscape vs Microsoft is obviously a case where it didn’t work too well for Netscape, but there are many examples of smaller companies beating larger ones using antitrust law. Although I’ve talked with my brother about antitrust over the years, I didn’t really understand how it could apply to someone like me – living in the Caribbean – and be an effective business tool – until after this interview. Renata explains how an antitrust investigation can be started for only $20,000 to $50,000 instead of the millions it can cost for a lawsuit – and how you gain tremendous leverage by having the US Government on your side against your competitors.

If you are interested in keeping bigger companies from threatening you, protecting your company and staying competitive, this is a must read interview.

Adrian: I’m here talking with Renata Hesse who works in antitrust at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which is a top technology law firm in the United States. Antitrust is a pretty important area of law that can affect companies as they become powerful within the market. Renata, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Renata: Sure. I’m happy to be here. I’m a native Californian and grew up in Berkeley. I went to a small women’s college outside of Boston and then went back to Berkeley for law school.

The first part of my legal career I worked for a law firm in San Francisco where I did intellectual property litigation for technology companies. For example, we did a lot of work for Nintendo at a time where Nintendo was alleged to have a lot of market power in the video game industry.

Whenever we filed intellectual property cases, we typically would have antitrust claims brought back against the company. That was how I first became involved in antitrust work.

After practicing for about seven years, one of the partners was asked to return to the antitrust division to work on a big merger for two telecom companies. When he left I said, “If you ever need help, I might be interested.” About a year later, he called and asked if I was still interested. I moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and started working at the Justice Department.

Adrian: For clarification, exactly what is antitrust?

Renata: Antitrust is an area of law designed to preserve the competitiveness of markets. The goal is not to keep people from getting big or to punish companies for getting too large. The goal is to keep the marketplace from suffering from impairments to its ability to function properly.

What it’s trying to do is to make it possible for people who have interesting ideas, new products or innovative ways of doing business to succeed in the marketplace despite the fact that they’re small. It also makes it possible for them to be assured that if one of their large competitors tries to do something bad to keep them from succeeding, the law will be there to protect them.

Adrian: It seems to me that when I hear about antitrust it comes up in the context of Google versus Yahoo!, which are billion dollar companies fighting it out and then getting regulated by the U.S. government. How does that then become relevant to a $50 million a year start-up?

Renata: One of the easiest and most common ways it can touch a company like that is if you are being acquired by or are acquiring someone and you or the entity you’re doing business with is a certain size, you have to file a form with the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. They essentially review your transaction before you can close. Very often, small companies are subject to these reporting requirements because they’re being acquired by much larger companies. Most foreign jurisdictions have reporting requirements like that as well.

The other way it’s relevant is that our practice involves a lot of small technology companies that are not necessarily at risk but are occasionally being pushed around by larger companies that have already gotten into the market and have what we call market power. The antitrust laws can be used by those companies either through getting the government to start investigations or through directly suing in private litigation. It then becomes a tool to go to war with a larger competitor that is threatening you in some way.

Adrian: Let’s say I’m doing some pretty innovative things in Internet advertising and Internet marketing, and I’m having some problems with Yahoo!’s market power. What is an example where Yahoo! could be an antitrust problem for us? As a start-up doing $50 million a year in revenue, what can we do about it?

Renata: The kind of cases that are most likely to be successful in this area are where somebody, whether it’s Yahoo! or somebody else, is taking actions that make it difficult or impossible for you to distribute your product effectively to the people who you need to get it to. In the lingo of antitrust, it’s called distribution foreclosure.

Adrian: If I have something that I wanted to sell and assuming it’s legal in all jurisdictions that Yahoo!’s advertising in and the price I can pay for the media is competitive, if Yahoo! is refusing to run my advertising then that’s an antitrust issue, is that correct?

Renata: It could be if Yahoo! had a product that competed with you. Say both you and Yahoo! are selling Christmas trees.

Adrian: Okay. Let’s say I’m doing $50 million a year selling Christmas trees all year round and Yahoo! decides to go into the same market and sell Christmas trees as well. What you’re saying is that Yahoo! can’t stop me from advertising on its distribution platforms for selling Christmas trees?

Renata: That could be a potential antitrust problem.

Adrian: That is fascinating. If that actually happens, I can then go and start talking about antitrust to Yahoo! Does that generally force them to open up their platform and allow them to run the advertising?

Renata: It might. It depends on how good your case is and on how much they’re willing to fight. We’ve advised small companies that are having problems where larger competitors try to shut them out of tradeshows. Another example might be if someone made it impossible for your Internet e-mail program to work for their users, such as if you were a Yahoo! user and couldn’t send messages to people on Hotmail.

In my old section at the antitrust division, we also did a lot of work in the financial markets. Typically people don’t like to have other people, particularly regulators, looking at all their documents because by and large you’re going to find something eventually. I always felt like the big financial companies did everything possible to avoid getting into any kind of issue with us because they never wanted to hand over any documents, as this can lead to trouble.

It can be a very powerful tool. Especially if you’re doing it in a multi-jurisdictional way where you get the United States, Europe, Korea, and Japan interested and even China and India, which all have monopoly laws. As compared to filing your own lawsuit against another company, it’s relatively inexpensive to do that. Depending on how good your case is, you can probably get an investigation started somewhere in the range of $20,000 to $50,000 as opposed to the millions of dollars it would cost you to prosecute a lawsuit against somebody.

Adrian: Let’s say I’m running my company, and I’m based somewhere in the United States. I don’t know anyone in the Department of Justice. How does a little guy like me get the attention of federal regulators to put them onto Yahoo!?

Renata: You hire a lawyer. You hire somebody who knows how to put together the information in a way that’s going to be persuasive. They will go into the agency and explain why they should look at this and why the conduct you’re concerned about isn’t just bad for you but bad for consumers. The other touchstone of all of this is that antitrust is not about hurting competitors. It’s about hurting consumers.

Whenever anybody is thinking about going into a regulator or suing under the antitrust laws, you really have to think about telling a story on how the harm that’s happening to your business is impairing you and keeping you from bringing better, cheaper products to consumers because that’s what they care about and that’s what the law cares about.

Adrian: I’ve read about the history of John D Rockefeller and Standard Oil. I learned that antitrust is actually against the trust, and you’d have a trust that made your oil, another trust that made your sugar and another trust that made your butter. Everything was run by trust. I don’t actually completely understand what that means. Is it just a collection of companies collaborating or is it always just one single company that had market power? How did the world actually look in those days that caused antitrust regulation?

Renata: The problem was that these large companies simply had too much power and force in the marketplace; they were impairing the ability of the economy to function in a way that people realised it really needed to function in order to transform itself in the 20th century.

There is a part of antitrust that is about illegal collaborations between competitors. My recollection is that it’s not particularly what was going on at that time, but it is illegal for companies to get together and agree on the prices that they should sell their products at, which parts of the country they’re going to sell in or which kinds of customers they’re going to sell to. It’s illegal regardless of your size and regardless of how much power you have. You simply cannot do that.

Adrian: If it was a bunch of $5 million companies all ganging up against one other company, is that something that antitrust would still step in for?

Renata: If they were getting together and agreeing to, for example, boycott a particular large distributor, it could be. The classic example of the kinds of things you’re talking about are cases where doctors get together and agree on how they’re going to negotiate with insurance companies or hospitals. Those can be violations of the antitrust law.

Adrian: What if a bunch of $5 million companies get together against a small competitor and have an agreement on how to handle that competitor? Would that be antitrust?

Renata: Same thing.

Adrian: What are the typical types of illegal collaborations between competitors?

Renata: The three big, classic criminal violations are price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocations. The first two are probably pretty obvious. The third is where you agree with one of your competitors to only concentrate in a particular type of product.

Some examples are “I’m going to take toilet paper. You take paper towels,” “You take DRAM. I’ll take SRAM,” “I’m going to focus my business on selling only to customers in California. You take Nevada and Wyoming,” or “I’m going to focus on just selling to customers that have businesses with more than 500 people in them.” If you’re an ERP software seller, for example, you’d say, “You take all the big companies. I’m going to take all the small ones.”

When you do that you deprive those customers or those geographic areas of the competition between the two entities. You’re essentially agreeing between the number of entities involved that you’re going to be able to have a lock on this particular area or type of customer. As a consequence, you’re going to be able to charge them whatever you want to charge them because the others are not going to compete with you there.

Adrian: Are there lessons start-ups can take from companies that have successfully put themselves into a position where they do get prosecuted by antitrust? In other words, are there things we can look at and can learn to make ourselves more competitive?

Renata: You can for some of them. People do a lot of things to protect their marketplaces. For example, exclusive relationships with suppliers can be legal if you’re small enough and you’re not foreclosing a rival. For example, the principle tools Microsoft used to hurt Netscape were using primarily its relationships with its OEMs and with its other software developers to impair Netscape’s ability to get on desktops and be used by consumers.

On a smaller level, you can do some of those very same things, which are mostly called exclusive dealing relationships. An example of that might be an arrangement whereby you agree with a particular entity that it will only distribute your product and not the products of your competitors. One would have to look at all the facts, but those kinds of arrangements can be legal under the antitrust laws.

The main thing is that you’re going to be looking at how you keep yourself out in front and legally keep your rivals from getting in the forefront of people’s minds. The ones that are coming to mind are different kinds of exclusive relationships with suppliers, distributors or advertising channels. We talked about the example of selling Christmas trees using internet advertising. Done correctly by a small enough company, those kinds of relationships can help you succeed and can be legal.

Adrian: I bet you haven’t been asked that question many times before.

Renata: No. Most of the time people want to know, “What can’t I do.” When we do counselling people typically say, “I really would like to do this. Is that okay?” Sometimes you get some pretty interesting questions that way. Usually, the business people are the ones who are thinking of the clever ways of making sure their products succeed and not the lawyers.

On the other hand, one of the most interesting and fun things for antitrust lawyers to do is have someone come to them and say, “I’ve got this big company, and they’re giving me a really hard time. Help me think through all the various ways that I might be able to fight back,” and there are a lot of different options.

The Bible and Critical Thinking

Many Christians balk at the mention of critical thinking. They associate the phrase with skepticism and “criticism” of the Bible and of religion in general; thus, they want nothing to do with it. “Critical thinking” gets taught at colleges and places where they use reason and logic to lure children away from the faith their parents taught them.

While university professors have often stolen away children in the name of “critical thinking,” the unbelieving skepticism promoted by these types does not deserve the label: it is not “critical” in the least bit, at least not in the biblical sense of the term.

That’s right, I said the biblical sense of the word “critical.” I say this because the Bible uses the word “critical” in a very important way. The word “critical” merely comes from the common Greek word krites, which means “a judge,” and appears in many related forms (krima, krivo, krisis, and others). Perhaps the closest sounding equivalent to our English “critical,” kritikos-meaning “able to judge (or discern)”-appears only once in the New Testament but is attributed to the Word of God: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge [kritikos] the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). This Bible surely does have something to say about “critical” thinking, in fact, the Bible itself sets the ultimate standard for godly critical thinking.

The Bible describes God Himself as the ultimate, fair, righteous judge (Gen 18:25 [o krivov]; 1 Pet. 2:23; 2 Tim. 4:8; Heb. 9:27; 12:23), who will critically evaluate and recompense all works (Eccl. 11:9; 12:14; Rom. 2:6; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 1:17), even judging hidden things (1 Cor. 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 4:2), and who will preside at a final judgment (Ps. 1:5; John 5:29; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16; 3:6; Heb. 10:30; 1 John 4:17).

We can say, even if just for instructional purposes, that the Bible describes God as the ultimate, fair, righteous Critical Thinker. We can maintain this as long as we divest the phrase “critical thinking” of the humanistic, skeptical baggage normally associated with it. If we instead accept God’s Word as the standard of critical thinking, then we have a proper, powerful, and challenging doctrine of critical thinking. This way we can rescue godly judgment and discernment from the corrupt minds and wills of the humanists.

Jesus Himself, the embodiment and exemplar of faithful human thinking, engaged in faithful critical thinking (judgment) obedient to the will of the Father: As I hear, I judge [krivo]; and My judgment [krisis] is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30). We should not avoid critical thinking, but rather, as Jesus, engage in faithful critical thinking in submission to our Father in heaven.

As He is a righteous judge, we also should strive to discern, understand, and make decisions based on righteous critical thinking. In fact, we must engage in critical thinking. All decision making involves us in critical thinking; we cannot avoid it. The question is not one of critical thinking versus not critical thinking; the question is one of good critical thinking (wisdom, discernment, judgment) versus poor critical thinking (foolishness, sloth, rebellion).

The obligation to engage in “judgment” may sound foreign to the Christian who has heard all along judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Truly, we should not pass judgment upon other people in the sense that we point out their sins and mistakes while ignoring our own, or hold them to superfluous religious standards that the Bible does not call for (Rom. 2:1; 14:4; Col. 2:16; James 2:4; 4:11; 5:9). Yet this does not mean that we should exercise no judgment at all. Jesus does command us to engage in a critical-thinking type of judgment according to righteousness: Do not judge [krinete] according to appearance, but judge [krisin] with righteous judgment [krinete] (John 7:24).

In other words, work hard to conform your judgments (and life!) to the standard of God’s law. This will infuse your thinking with honesty and truth, according to the ninth commandment. Other godly standards such as humility and mercy will dictate that you practice criticism of your own positions first (and thus not so quickly judge others, Matt. 7:1; James 1:19).

We should begin to train our children to think critically according to biblical standards at a very young age. Such training in wisdom and judgment should play a core role in education. In fact, Solomon’s Proverbs aim at such training:

To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:2-7).

This process of learning and training toward good judgment requires an intimate relationship and strong passion for God’s word: 

My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course (Prov. 2:1-9).

Parents and other adults who never had such an emphasis in their education (including Sunday School!) should study and exercise their critical thinking skills before God as well. The process begins with a desire to apply God’s standards to every area of life. Critical thinking is merely faithful thinking, and we can all use more of it.

God’s Prosecuting Attorney’s

Paul shunned worldly wisdom, and in place of it advocated the standard of God’s wisdom. He called Christians in light of this standard to critically examine all things

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises [avakrinei: critically examines] all things, yet he himself is appraised [anakrinetai] by no man (1 Cor. 2:6-7, 12-15).

There that word krino (to judge) appears again, only in a purposefully modified form: ana-krino, which essentially describes the work of a cross-examiner in a courtroom. Christians must critically examine all things by the standard of God’s word. We must act as prosecuting attorneys, questioning and trying the testimony of human society and exposing its fallacies. In doing so, we witness and submit to both the sovereignty of God, and the high standard to which Christ raises His people: For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; see Is. 40:13-14).

Christian books on philosophy and logic often refer to the use of the word “reason” in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” The Hebrew here, however, merely uses a special version of the standard word for “judge,” or “rebuke,” and particularly applies to a courtroom setting.

The English translation “reason” today carries overtones of individual scholarship or thinking, and these lead us away from Isaiah’s context of God’s lawsuit against Israel for breaking the laws of His covenant (read Is. 1:1-17, and then read verses 18-20). For this reason, Isaiah evokes a courtroom scene as the Lord essentially challenges Israel, “let us debate our case in court.”[1] Perhaps the NRSV (despite its many and great flaws) gets closest: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD.” God engaged Israel in a debate through critical thinking that views His word as the standard. Rebellious Israel would have been wise to accept His gracious terms, for they could not have reasoned successfully against God’s covenant terms. He issued the challenge to jerk their thinking to reality, as if He said, “Let us dispute,” in order “To know if I do accuse you without cause.”[2] The only logical conclusion Israel could have reached required repentance and obedience to His law on their part. Yet God called them to draw this logical conclusion.

The Greek Old Testament uses a very strong and pointed word to describe this “reasoning” in Isaiah 1:18: dielegchthomen, an enhanced version of the word elengchi (“reproof,” or “conviction”) which, as I discuss in another chapter, plays an important role in the concepts of biblical truth and faithful thought. This version means “to refute utterly,” as employed by Plato (Gorgias, 457e), Aristotle, and others. In the context of Isaiah 1:18 it clearly refers to the work of an expert prosecuting attorney who will utterly refute his opponent’s (in this case Israel’s) case. The same word only elsewhere appears in the exact same scenario in the Greek Old Testament: Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, because the Lord has a case against His people; even with Israel He will dispute [dielegchthesetai] (Mic. 6:2). In each case, the Bible places “reasoning” within the scene of God’s courtroom, and calls man to witness according to the truth of God and by God’s standards. Yet note that it still calls us to do so.


So, rather than fear critical thinking, Christians should seek to reclaim, reform, and embrace it. We must exercise judgment in conforming our lives to God’s word; we should seek to expand the area of that influence further into our lives, and thus should embrace the idea of learning to “judge.” This follows a scriptural ideal. The apostles, Jesus promised, would sit upon thrones in judgment over Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). Paul argued that all Christians will sit in judgment over the world and even angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3), and should therefore have the critical thinking skills to arbitrate each others’ minor disputes (1 Cor. 6:4-6). Moses reminded the Israelites that he taught them God’s law, and thus standards for good judgment: I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it (Deut. 4:5, 14). We should employ godly logic and reasoning and recapture business, ethics, law, education, and everything else, destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

True, sometimes seats of judgment and learning get overtaken by wickedness and unbelief. Sometimes false witnesses make a mockery of judgment (Prov. 19:28, KJV); sometimes wickedness fills the seat of judgment (Eccl. 3:16, KJV), and yet this does not mean reasoning, judgment, or critical thinking are wicked in themselves. A wise man will continue to discern time and judgment (Eccl. 8:5, KJV). Despite the failures (fallacies!) of man’s reasoning even in high places, God still expects us to pursue truth through godly critical thinking. In fact, He empowers this pursuit through the work of the Holy Spirit: He convinces the world of sin, righteousness, and judgmentconcerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:8, 11). In this sense, critical thinking moves us to understand that God has judged (condemned) the devil, and Christians must live in light of the judgment that-as Christ said already when He walked the earth-Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out (John 12:31).

Returning to a theme from an earlier chapter, logic simply involves the organized study of discerning and telling the truth. Added to the context of the biblical theme of godly wisdom and judgment, logic becomes much more than simple truth-telling; it becomes clear that logical thinking, to meet a biblical standard, must adopt the larger scope of a consistently biblical worldview. Logic becomes a way of thinking that reflects biblical law, biblical purposes, biblical covenant life, and biblical theology. When the Bible speaks of wisdom and judgment (and thus krites) it includes all of these things. Thus, only logic and reasoning that remain faithful to the Bible properly deserve the label “critical thinking,” because only reasoning that begins with God constitutes good judgment.


[1] Paul R. Gilchrist, “yakah,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vol, eds. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980) 1:377. Westminster Seminary professor William Edgar notes something similar in Isaiah 41:21, and also mentions the Hebrew behind 1:18, though he does not elaborate too much on either case. See his Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003), 44, 123 (“Chapter 4…” note 1).

[2] Geneva Bible note, Is. 1:18. See 1599 Geneva Bible (White Hall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2006), 679.

In Truth for Justice and Honor: A Memoir of a Nigerian-Biafran Ambassador

A tribute to Professor Austine S.O. Okwu at 92: A look at how a diplomat who signed up to serve his country ended up serving his people. From a review of his book, In Truth for Justice and Honor: A Memoir of a Nigerian-Biafran Ambassador.

Part 1

By the late 1950s to early 1960s, the British were fatigued with ruling Nigeria. For governance, they had divided the country into regions, provinces and divisions. Nearing the date of their departure there were long list of services to hand over to the locals.

The Ahoada Interview

In 1958, Austine S.O. was among several young men who applied for a senior service job. As he sat down to fill in the job application form, he thought of what the fortune-teller foretold about him. How in November, or perhaps December, of 1924, he wouldn’t descend out of the womb until relatives, vehemently opposed to British type education, made an exception and pledged to divinity that he would be permitted to follow the footsteps of the white people, and sent to school.

Weeks went by and a few applicants, Austine among them, were invited to Enugu, in Eastern region, Nigeria, to face a civil service commission headed by Mr. Felix Iheanacho.

‘State your name, date of birth and place of origin,’ asked the lead interviewer.

‘Sir, I am Austine Okwu, born November, perhaps December, of 1924, from Egbu Owerri.’

‘Young man, make up your mind, choose a month and a date,’ said another interviewer.

‘Birth registry did not exist when I was born, and my parents did not go to school.’ Not unusual considering the era, and the questioning proceeded.

‘In what ways can you help keep up law and order in the division?’

S.O. moved to the edge of the wooden chair where he sat, braced both shoulders and with eyes wide open stated, ‘The issue is twofold. First, good policies often turn bad by their inhuman executions. Second, even bad policies could be turned into good by their humane interpretation and implementation to help the community. The collective well-being of the governed,’ he continued, ‘is the most important reason for governance.’

Swept off his seat by such a spontaneous response, the chair came around the table. ‘Brilliant!’ he said and embraced S.O.

After three months of orientation which included a near-death experience during ten days at Man-of-War Bay camp training in the Cameroons, where Austine nearly drowned when during swimming drill he tried to touch the bottom of a bay of the Atlantic Ocean, he was posted to work as an officer in Ahoada division, under Tony St. Ledger.

Suddenly, fortune followed him in the form of a house in an area reserved only for the European expatriates. Also given to him was a Steward, and a midsized car suitable for a midsized garage. Feeling accomplished, S. O. married Beatrice Chuke of Obosi.

Ahoada Platform

Ahoada catapulted Austine into full public service in the diverse Igbo community. On behest of the colonial administrators, Austine oversaw the collection of taxes, maintenance of law and order, monitoring of elections, and the review and adjudication of public petitions.

Everybody took notice when the new assistant division officer smoothed out a dispute about chieftaincy matters between the divisional officer, Tony St. Ledger, and Mpi, an uncompromising chief in the division with strong Igbo values. As a result of this accomplishment, Tony felt at home with Austin and visited frequently.

The day Tony St. Ledger visited

One day, when the Owerri sun had begun to wane, and families were hurrying to beat the impending darkness, a knock came on the door.

‘Dear, someone is knocking on the front door,’ said Austin to Beatrice.

A tall, agile Steward, eavesdropping, rushed to open the door and went out of sight again.

‘Please have a seat, Mr. St. Ledger,’ Beatrice said as a tanned white face gained entry into the living room.

Sitting across at the dining table, the division officer, and Austine chatted and chuckled.

‘Did you see what is in the recent Nigerian Gazette?’ Tony asked.

The agile Steward resurfaced, set a cool stout beer, a tumbler and a rabbit head opener in front of Tony, then docked in the kitchen and began to pluck fowl feathers.

‘No,’ answered Austine, his eyebrows raised in pleasant surprise.

‘The Federal Government of Nigeria is looking for Foreign Service officers for diplomatic service, and I think you are suited for the job. I will make the calls on your behalf.’ He tipped the last drop of beer into his mouth and leaned back in the chair.

Thrilled, Austine got up, hurried to the fridge, and claimed a bottle of beer for himself and another bottle of stout beer for Tony.

True to his promise, Tony made calls and got the support of many Igbo kingmakers, including Chief Jerome Udoji, the then Secretary of Eastern Nigeria. All agreed S.O. was to go to Lagos, to work with the Federal Government in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The trip to Lagos, Nigeria

The wisdom of the deity had come to come fruition. At the local barber shop, S.O. had his hair trimmed, with a side track to the left. In the morning before departing to Lagos, relatives gathered to wish him farewell.

‘When a fish gets mature in the head it crosses the river to the ocean,’ said James Osuji, an uncle. ‘Like Moses and Abraham, who guided the Jews, our ancestors shall demolish all obstacles in your way,’ declared Lawrence, an older brother. ‘And may you never forget Ndigbo, your people.’

The next day Austine packed a leather box and traveled to Lagos, where a federal task force waited for his arrival.

His interview in Lagos was short and intense, and so was his stay. After the first question, it became clear to him that the capital city of Lagos was not ready for another Igbo personality eager to serve his motherland.

‘What made you leave Ahoada Division and the Eastern region?’ the first interrogator demanded.

‘To serve the motherland abroad with distinction,’ he replied.

‘Aren’t you just another ambitious Igboman, trying to take over Nigeria?’

Sweat broke out on his forehead as his hand moved to adjust his gray bow tie. He who endured Man-of-War Bay training will not succumb to hostility, S.O. swore in his mind.

‘Done,’ said the chairman of the federal task force, Alhaji Sule Katagum, with the wave of a left hand. Uncertain about the outcome of the interview, Austine went home and waited.

Many days later, the news came, the federal civil service commission had recommended S.O. to the Nigerian foreign ministry. Title: First Secretary and Head of Chancery to the Nigerian High Commission. Orientation: 3 weeks. Destination: Ghana

September of 1961

In September 1961 S.O. boarded a flight and left for Ghana, his host country, headed by an ambitious Nkrumah, a pan-Africanist, who dreamed of a day when he would not only rule his enclave but rule Nigeria and perhaps Africa.

Austine not only survived, but relished the rough and tumble of Ghanaian politics. Every opportunity to him became an occasion to showcase Nigeria to the world.

Meanwhile, back home, major ethnic groups, the Igbos in the East, the Hausas in the North and the Yorubas in the West were locked in mortal combat, an atmosphere which disintegrated into civil war in the year 1967.