February 27, 1998
After years of incarceration, four Chinese refugees have been anticipating freedom for the past several months. Unfortunately, they are just starting to realize that their hopes may be based upon deception.
The refugees (three women and a man) incarcerated for years in Kern County's Lerdo Detention Facility near Bakersfield, were visited in December by lawyer Frank Muna of Fresno, who told them that if they signed his papers they would be released on bail by Christmas.
Unfortunately, this was the third time that these refugees had been led to believe that they would be free by Christmas. In 1995 they were told by their lawyer that if they went on a hunger strike, they would be free by Christmas. In 1996, they expected the President to free them by Christmas because of a new law which had just gone into effect. Would Christmas 1997 be another time of disappointment for these who have hoped for freedom for so long? Sadly, the answer was "yes."
For over three years, Voice For Life has labored to seek freedom for these refugees, but financial resources available to Voice For Life made it impossible to pay for a lawyer to represent the refugees. Instead, it was necessary to rely upon the generosity of pro-bono (volunteer) lawyers.
When Doug Matheson and Larry Miller became aware of the refugees' situation last summer, they became disillusioned with the pro-bono lawyer, and asked Tim Palmquist of Voice For Life if they could hire a new lawyer. "We looked forward to the prospects of having paid legal representation for the refugees," Tim recalled. "But we didn't understand yet that a paid attorney could actually make matters worse."
Fresno attorney Randy Risner was hired to handle the case. Risner asked Frank Muna to assist him with the case. Risner and Muna then became involved in a dispute over Matheson's and Miller's money.
"As the dispute came to its peak, we became personally disturbed by what we considered to be Muna's bad judgment and un-Godly approach to the refugees' cases," Tim said. Meeting with Doug Matheson, Larry Miller, and Frank Muna, Tim and Terri Palmquist explained that they would not support retaining Muna.
Terri summed up her concerns by saying "the Bible tells us not to rely upon wicked counsel." Unfortunately, Matheson and Miller were determined to continue paying Muna. As this difference of opinion was being discussed, the Palmquists first heard that Muna was allegedly a homosexual with AIDS, and that his medication affected his judgment. Muna admitted that he is HIV positive, but he skirted the question regarding his alleged homosexuality, stating, "it is illegal to discriminate against someone in an employment situation because of their sexual orientation." Tim asked, "Do you consider this to be an employment situation?" Muna answered, "yes."
As the attorneys continued to profit from the misery of the refugees, their childish dispute reached its pinnacle in arguments presented before Judge Dennis Beck-- arguments centered on personal attacks against each other, bypassing issues related to the merits of the refugees' cases.
On November 12, the dispute became public as the Fresno Bee published an article entitled "Two Fresno lawyers feud over Chinese immigration cases." According to the article, Muna accused Risner of beating his wife, while Risner accused Muna of being a "practicing homosexual [who] was dying of AIDS." The Bee reported Muna's response to these charges: "Muna, who has acknowledged he is gay, said in an interview Tuesday that he is not dying of AIDS. He said the charges are 'something very personal' and are accusations that affect the gay community. 'If I was a leper or a satanist, it's not relevant to this case,' Muna said. 'The thing is, can I get these people out?'"
"We had initially opposed Muna for reasons other than his homosexuality," Tim explained. "But anyone who has been involved in the pro-life movement for a long period of time understands that the 'gay community' is diametrically opposed to everything pro-lifers are working for. We know this all too well, because Terri was beaten by an ACT-UP activist in 1991.
When the mud-smoke cleared, Muna emerged victorious--but this was no victory for the refugees.
Although Risner no longer represented the refugees, various individuals continued to contact his office for information about the refugees, because when Risner initially took the case, Voice For Life had sent out a press release providing Risner's phone number as the contact number. News articles and radio reports provided Risner's number to concerned individuals, who called his office only to be treated rudely and provided with no information.
It also eventually became evident that Risner may have lied about the planned visit of Harry Wu. Risner had told Tim in October that he had personally discussed the refugees with Wu, and that Wu would come to visit the refugees soon. Risner also told reporters about Wu's planned visit at a Voice For Life prayer vigil. However, when Tim called Wu in December, Wu was not familiar with the refugees' situation. Wu asked for information about the refugees, which Tim provided. "We still hope he will get involved," Tim said.
In response to the Palmquists' concerns about Muna, Matheson and Miller initially said they would stay with him unless Tim could show them a good alternative, emphasizing that a pro-bono attorney would not be acceptable. So, Tim began a search for the best attorney, regardless of the cost. "This was the first time we had conducted such a search, because we have never had funds to pay such a lawyer even if we found him." Tim explained.
Tim's search was very successful: he found an attorney experienced in immigration cases (unlike Muna) and federal cases. In addition, the attorney is a dedicated Christian and pro-lifer with a track record of unmatched integrity.
When Tim told Matheson about the attorney, Matheson refused to even speak to the attorney; it was now clear that he would not consider leaving Muna. "I sensed he was afraid that Muna would sue them for 'discrimination based upon sexual orientation.'" So Tim informed Matheson that he was would ask the refugees to switch attorneys, with or without Matheson's consent.
When Tim went to Lerdo to ask the refugees to consider switching to the new attorney, Matheson and Muna had been there first, promising the refugees freedom by Christmas. It became clear that this promise would keep the refugees with Muna, at least until Christmas. "As I told Zhou Shiu Yon, 'I really hope I'm wrong, but I think this is just a lie,'" Tim recalled.
"If release on bail was a real possibility, I considered it odd that Doug Matheson had not mentioned it to me in our phone conversation just prior to his visit," Tim observed. (INS policy has not allowed bail in these "exclusion" cases.)
As Tim predicted, Christmas passed with no indication of any change in the refugees' status. After Christmas, he met again several times with the refugees, only to learn that Muna was asking them to give him "just a little more time." He claimed that the reason their release had been delayed was that the judge on their case had changed unexpectedly.
In late January, it appeared to Tim that the refugees would be hopelessly obligated to follow Matheson and Miller. To avoid causing more friction between the refugees, Tim decided to give up on the Chinese refugee ministry, relinquishing it to Doug Matheson and Larry Miller. (If you called Voice For Life during this time, you would have heard a message referring calls regarding the refugees to Matheson's phone number.)
In the past few days, as this newsletter was being prepared, one of the refugees called Tim and Terri, asking whether it might still be possible to switch to another attorney.
"We still believe that having an attorney who is not only legally competent to handle their cases, but who has the proper spiritual orientation, could make a big difference," Tim concluded. "But we have always considered this to be primarily God's battle. Whoever the lawyer is, we have always prayed that God would receive the glory for the outcome of this situation."
Prior to the events of the past few months, the mission of Voice For Life did not include funding legal action for the refugees. "This was no accident," Tim explained. "We have always hoped that God would answer our prayers for the refugees' freedom by moving His Church to respond to their needs, not by any lawyer's legal maneuvers."
When refugees signed statements requesting that their files be sent to the new lawyer hired by Voice For Life, Muna unethically refused to send the files, preventing the people he claimed to be representing from controlling their own legal case. However, after several more months of waiting, the refugees mentioned in this article were eventually released--but not as a result of anything Muna had done. (See other articles here for updates.)