Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Since the 60 Minutes piece debuted back in May, sovereign citizens have been all over the news. A sovereign citizen in Pensacola, Florida, opened fire on a seafood restaurant after learning it had run out of crawfish. (Seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to us.) Meanwhile, sovereign citizens in Alaska are facing charges for allegedly plotting to murder a federal judge. Another sovereign citizen caused a ruckus at a bankruptcy hearing for a pizza chain in Chicago.
What is a sovereign citizen? It's an anti-government whack job who usually doesn't pay taxes, doesn't carry a driver's license, and doesn't hold a Social Security card or any other form of official ID. The individual considers himself "sovereign," and thus not subject to the laws of the United States.
In short, sovereign citizens consider themselves to be above the law. If that's the definition, we have a whole bunch of "sovereign citizens" in this country, although many of them go by other names. Some we call "judge." Some we call "lawyer" or "counsel." Others we call "CEO." In that last bunch are familiar names such as Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski, and many others.
We applaud the attention paid to sovereign citizens. Law-enforcement experts consider them a prime threat for domestic terrorism, and some members of the movement have proven to be capable of violence. But the press and the public should keep this in mind: Lower-class fruitcakes who call themselves "sovereign" aren't the only Americans who act as if they are above the law. And violence is not the only form of terrorism. An alarming number of American elites, some acting under the color of law, practice a form of legal and financial terrorism that claims an army of faceless victims.
Consider just a few examples that we have reported on this blog:
* Rollins v. Rollins--Sherry Rollins filed for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina, where she and her husband lived. The case got rolling, jurisdiction was established, and it could not be changed, under the law. But Sherry Rollins was not married to a regular working schmuck. Ted W. Rollins is a member of one of America's wealthiest right-leaning families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and other enterprises. Ted Rollins apparently decided that the law didn't apply to him. He ignored a court order to maintain the mortgage payment, insurance, and taxes on the family house, causing Sherry Rollins and the couple's two daughters to be booted from their own home. Sherry Rollins and the girls fled to Alabama, where she had relatives. When it looked like a South Carolina judge was going to zap him with hefty alimony and child-support payments, Ted Rollins sued Sherry Rollins for divorce in Alabama--and an Alabama judge named D. Al Crowson took the case. All kinds of law says this can't be done; jurisdiction already was set in South Carolina--and Ted Rollins had been found in contempt of court and had a warrant for his arrest. Crowson took the case, contrary to clear Alabama law such as Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (1993) and proceeded to administer a colossal cheat job to Sherry Rollins and her two daughters. How did this happen? Well, Ted Rollins is the CEO of Campus Crest Communities, which corralled a $380 million IPO on Wall Street, and his primary corporate lawyers are with the influential Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant. Knowing the right lawyers, who apparently know the right judge, seems to have helped Ted Rollins pull a major fast one on his ex wife and their two daughters. We have written some about this case and will be writing much more, but the bottom line is this: Every lawyer and judge in this case, on both sides, had to know that Sherry Rollins was being cheated. But they allowed it to happen, essentially saying, "Hey, we don't have to follow the law. If someone has enough money, he can write his own legal ticket." It's safe to say that none of these people is a "sovereign citizen." But they sure as heck are lawless rogues.
Turner v. Turner--Angela Turner filed for divorce from Kile Turner, and the couple worked out a custody agreement that seemed to be working. Both of the Turners were lawyers, with prominent downtown Birmingham firms. But things seemed to change when the two parties remarried--Angela Turner to Dr. Hajo Drees and Kile Turner to Sara M. Turner, an attorney with the Birmingham firm of Baker Donelson. Kile Turner and his new wife suddenly sought full custody of the triplets from Kile's marriage to Angela Turner Drees. In order to accomplish that goal, Kile Turner stated under oath that Hajo Drees had been convicted of domestic violence in Nebraska. Court records indicate that the allegation played a major role in giving the Turners full custody of the triplets and dramatically changing the financial arrangement between Kile Turner and Angela Turner Drees. There was only one problem with the domestic-violence allegation against Hajo Drees. It wasn't true, and at least three public documents indicate Kile Turner has now admitted before an official proceeding that he knew it wasn't true. Again, we will be writing much more about Turner v. Turner. But it appears to be another case of a privileged individual deciding that the rules don't apply to him, that he didn't have to tell the truth while under oath in court.
Mike McGarity v. Roger Shuler--This, of course, is my own case, the one that gave birth to Legal Schnauzer. Not long after moving in next door to Mrs. Schnauzer and me in late 1998, Mike McGarity showed clear signs that he is a jackass. That's a long story, but we later discovered that he has at least eight criminal convictions in his background, which helped explain a lot of his behavior. We, of course, could not keep McGarity from living next to us. But we sure as hell could make sure that he, and those affiliated with him, respected our property rights. When McGarity, his family members, and guests began to regularly trespass on our property, I warned them multiple times verbally to stay on their side of the boundary line. On one of these occasions, McGarity responded by threatening to sue me and saying, "We're going to keep on coming." I consulted a private attorney, who wrote McGarity a letter, explaining the law and stating that he would receive no more warnings. When that did not solve the problem, we were faced with three options: (1) Move; (2) Put up with the trespassing and the potential liability it presented; (3) Take legal action. We quickly decided that Nos. 1 and 2 were not viable options, so we focused on Door No. 3. The lawyer who wrote the letter clearly stated that McGarity was committing a crime, cited the relevant law, and said there would be no more warnings. When the trespassing continued, I studied up on criminal trespass law, consulted an assistant DA in our county, and swore out a complaint with the magistrate. That led to McGarity's arrest for criminal trespass, third degree, and a trial--in which (and I'm not making this up) he admitted to violating the law but was found not guilty anyway. The not-guilty verdict allowed him to sue me for a disfavored tort called malicious prosecution, which means a previous proceeding was initiated with a total lack of probable cause. A transcript of the criminal trial shows that I had not only probable cause, but actual cause--McGarity admitted that he was, in fact, trespassing. William E. Swatek, a lawyer who has a 30-year history of ethics violations with the Alabama State Bar, filed the malicious-prosecution claim on McGarity's behalf anyway. The lawsuit was so absurd that I had eight to 10 clear defenses--the main ones being that McGarity had admitted to trespassing and that I had consulted multiple attorneys and shared all details with them before taking legal action, an absolute defense to a malicious-prosecution charge. I hired a lawyer, at about $250 an hour, and he filed a motion for summary judgment that was properly executed and supported as required by law, with affidavits from my wife, me, and the private attorney I had consulted. Our affidavits asserted a number of facts, but the key ones were these--(1) My wife and I stated that we had witnessed McGarity enter our property on multiple occasions, without being licensed, privileged, or invited to be there. That's a textbook definition of criminal trespass under Alabama law; (2) The attorney stated that I had consulted him, disclosed all the relevant facts to him, and he advised me of the applicable law. That, of course, is a total defense to a malicious prosecution charge. Our evidence easily met the burden to show there was a prima facie case for granting summary judgment, meaning the burden shifted to McGarity to show there was a legitimate reason to go to trial. On our first motion, he presented no timely or relevant evidence, but Judge J. Michael Joiner denied summary judgment. On the second and third motions, raising distinct legal issues and again supported with material evidence as required by law, McGarity presented no response and no evidence at all. Under clear Alabama law--see Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown, 631 So. 2d 848 (1993)--all three summary-judgment motions had to be granted. Every lawyer in the case, on both sides, knew that. Both judges--G. Dan Reeves took over after Joiner admitted he and Swatek are regular golf buddies and recused himself--knew that. My own lawyers, Jesse P. Evans III and Michael B. Odom, did nothing about the cheat job I experienced. In fact, they even refused to file a clear counterclaim for trespass and abuse of process. They also refused to return the money I had paid, almost $12,000, when I fired them.
Were any of the people involved in my case, or the two other cases noted above, "sovereign citizens"? Of course not. Are they lawless rogues, whose actions and inactions indicate they think it's OK for fundamental rules to be broken? Yes, they are. And it's our mission here to expose such scoundrels.
In a perverse way, you have to admire the sovereign citizens. At least they don't try to hide their lawlessness; they let you know right up front where they stand. Lawyers, judges, and corporate titans are much more sneaky when they bend the rules
Sovereign citizens are a legit concern. But Americans should be much more concerned about lawless rogues who undermine our system of justice, all under "color of law."