Hale continues bid for law license

White supremacist makes case before appeals court panel

State Journal-Record/October 31, 2002
By Mike Ramsey

Chicago -- White supremacist Matt Hale on Wednesday continued his attempt to get a federal court to determine whether he was unfairly denied an Illinois law license because of his racist beliefs. Three judges of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals considered the East Peoria man's case during brief oral arguments that included a reference to Benjamin Smith, the Hale disciple who went on a deadly shooting rampage that targeted non-whites in July 1999.

Hale's appeal stems from a U.S. District Court judge's dismissal of his lawsuit against the Illinois Supreme Court and its Committee on Character and Fitness, which rejected Hale's application for a license. The judge in March ruled that the Supreme Court's refusal to hear Hale's case was the final word on the matter.

Hale attorney Glenn Greenwald of New York City disagreed that the state high court, in taking a pass on the case, made a decision about it. And still unresolved, he said, is Hale's broader contention that his free-speech protections under the U.S. Constitution were violated.

"He has a claim that his First Amendment rights were violated," Greenwald said. "No court has ever heard it."

The 31-year-old Hale, head of a segregationist organization called the World Church of the Creator, passed the Illinois State Bar examination in 1998. The Committee on Character and Fitness, however, said his views were inconsistent with professional standards for lawyers.

Hale received due process before his license application was denied, attorneys for the high court and the committee told the appellate judges.

Still, Appellate Judge Diane Wood noted there was a "disturbing lack of transparency" in the deliberations about Hale.

"Today, Mr. Hale. Tomorrow, it could be a member of a fringe Islamic extremist group," she said. "The idea of it all happening behind closed doors ... is troubling to me."

In response, attorney Marc Martin cited a public evidentiary hearing in 1999 in which Hale was allowed to counter allegations against his character. Among the witnesses testifying on behalf of Hale was Smith, who eventually went on a shooting spree, Martin noted.

"This case is about whether (Hale) met his burden of proof," Martin said. "He did not."

The 21-year-old Smith, a member of Hale's church, reportedly was upset that Hale's law license was denied. During the July Fourth weekend, he embarked on a three-day rampage in Illinois and Indiana that killed two minorities and injured nine others, including a Springfield man. Smith killed himself as police closed in on him.

Hale was not implicated in the crimes.

"I have great objection to Mr. Martin bringing it up," Hale told reporters after the hearing. "It was obviously an attempt to prejudice the court. Guilt by association is not the law."

Also attending Wednesday's appeal hearing was Hale's father, retired East Peoria policeman Russell Hale. Matt Hale lives at his father's home and bases his organization there.

"I believe he has a right to feel however he wants to feel," Russell Hale said when asked about his son's views. "I don't think he should not be allowed to have a law license because of his beliefs - to me, that's wrong."

It wasn't known how soon the federal appeals court will issue an opinion in Hale's case.

Hale is running for a seat on the East Peoria City Council. It is his second attempt.

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