Religious Conviction

Judge Josť E. Martinez ruled on a contentious case involving the Archdiocese of Miami. Problem is, he's a Eucharistic minister

Canals's attorney, Emmanuel Perez, questions that claim. After he persuaded a jury unanimously that Canals was fired in retaliation for her unwillingness to lie, archdiocese lawyers asked Martinez to overturn the judgment. The Whistleblower Act could not apply, they argued, because Canals had never been asked to testify.

Despite an earlier ruling in the same case from U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Klein that whistleblower protection applies whether or not Canals testified under oath, Martinez sided with the archdiocese. On February 28, 2005, he threw out the jury verdict, claiming Canals needed to have given an official statement to be protected as a whistleblower. "Catholic Charities did not demand that Canals commit perjury ... because there is no evidence that Canals ever made, or attempted to make, a statement under oath," Martinez wrote in his opinion.

One month later, Perez was having a conversation with another attorney involving a separate case. They were discussing a witness list.

"During the ensuing telephone conversation, the codefendant's lawyer casually mentioned Judge Martinez's status as a Eucharistic minister," Perez wrote in a June 2005 motion to recuse Martinez and overturn his rulings.

Martinez serves in the unpaid position at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Coral Gables. It's unclear how long he has served or how active he is in religious affairs. A spokesperson for the archdiocese declined to comment about Martinez's affiliation with the church but did not deny he is a Eucharistic minister. In court papers, Martinez also does not deny his position as a Eucharistic minister. The judge did not respond to repeated calls to his chambers seeking comment.

In the meantime, the Canals case drags on. In one filing, Perez asked the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Martinez's ruling, alleging the judge should have recused himself:

"On one hand, there is the image of Martinez as a Judge, gavel in hand, wearing his judicial robe, and sitting on the bench dispensing justice while presiding in judgment over Defendant Archdiocese of Miami. On the other hand, there is the image of Eucharistic Minister Martinez, crucifix in hand, clad in the sacred robe of a Eucharistic Minister, and standing side-by-side with the Priest, the medallion around his neck symbolizing his status, dispensing the 'Body of Christ' and the 'Blood of Christ' to the faithful as an authorized agent and representative of the Archdiocese of Miami."

On June 12, the court denied the appeal, ruling the conflict of interest was not "clear and one which would be recognized by all objective, reasonable persons."

A second appeal is now before the court. Perez has argued that Martinez didn't have legal grounds to overturn the jury's verdict — even if he does have the authority to offer communion at St. Augustine on Sundays.

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