After a six-month power struggle with board members of a legal defence association for the wrongly convicted, Rubin (Hurricane) Carter said yesterday he is stepping down as its executive director.
At a press conference in Toronto, Mr. Carter announced that he is leaving his job at the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), a national lobby group established in 1993.
Mr. Carter, a former boxer who himself was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder in the United States, said he was protesting against what he calls the organization's weak response to the appointment of Judge Susan MacLean to the Ontario Court bench in March.
Before becoming a judge, she had been Crown prosecutor in the trial of Guy Paul Morin, who was convicted of the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessup but was later freed on the basis of DNA evidence. The case helped prompt the formation of the association.
"Because five of the 20 members of my board of directors, all lawyers, could not bring themselves to publicly oppose Susan MacLean's elevation to the Ontario provincial court, or failing that, in resigning from the board itself, these lawyers in my estimation have hopelessly compromised AIDWYC," Mr. Carter said.
"What I wish to point out is the vast difference in perspective between this group of five lawyers on the board, whose second nature is to make deals, to always deviate toward the least line of resistance and to compromise ..... and myself."
Joyce Milgaard, whose son David was wrongfully convicted of murder and who has worked with Mr. Carter for many years, said his decision saddened her, but added it wasn't unexpected.
"There's no bending with Rubin," she said. "It's unfortunate because I think he's done a wonderful job in many ways for AIDWYC. But by the same token we've all had to hold our breath at times, because you just never know for sure what he's going to say. And we could end up in a lawsuit over it, which is not something any organization wants."
Ms. Milgaard said it's probably for the best that Mr. Carter is leaving, but she did not want to nullify all the good work he's done in the past for the organization.
"Some of the things that he was saying were not correct, and so we couldn't support them," she said. "That's the problem. He goes off the deep end sometimes and says things, and then he sticks by them, even though he doesn't really know."
Lawyer Paul Copeland, an AIDWYC board member, said he is baffled by Mr. Carter's decision.
"I don't understand what he's doing," Mr. Copeland said. "I think it's very regrettable that there's been this parting of the ways. All of us are committed to working to help wrongly convicted people, and I don't think this is going to make either of us more effective."
Mr. Copeland said AIDWYC had benefited from Mr. Carter's fame and his ability to generate media attention over the years. Mr. Carter, who was wrongly convicted of a 1966 triple murder, has been the subject of a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film starring Denzel Washington.
Last week, Mr. Carter demanded the resignation of the five lawyers, who haven't been named publicly, from the board. When they refused, he quit, saying later that their refusal to publicly oppose Judge MacLean's appointment "crippled AIDWYC's ability to advocate for the truth."
In March, the organization responded to Judge MacLean's appointment by writing to Ontario's Attorney-General to say her elevation "mocks the wrongfully convicted." The group also held a press conference to explain its concern. But six months later, Mr. Carter argues that more needed to be done.
He said he had asked the board to "actively and publicly oppose and to denounce the appointment," but was disappointed by the response.
"Nowadays the fashionable morality is to move on whenever a malfeasance occurs," Mr. Carter said. He added: "This board of directors can move on with what they think the business of AIDWYC is. I, on the other hand ..... have to let my baby go."
The former boxer compared the struggle to the Bible passage in which King Solomon offers to cut a baby in half to satisfy two women, each of whom claims to be the mother. Like the true mother, Mr. Carter said, he would rather let his infant go than see it come to harm.