*** No Right To Expose Judicial System
- NO RIGHT TO EXPOSEJUDICIAL SYSTEMCharles Levendosky
Editorial Page Editor
New York Times wire
First Amendment Cyber-Tribune
WHEN COURTS SUBVERT LAWTO BANISH A CRITIC
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Charles Levendosky, editorial page editor of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, has a national reputation for First Amendment commentary. His email address is levendos(AT-sign)trib.com.)
By CHARLES LEVENDOSKY
c. 2000 Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune
In Vermont, a number of state judges and one federal judge don't think citizens have the right to attend criminal or civil trials -- at least not those citizens who criticize judges or the decisions they make. Citizen-reporter Scott Huminski has been summarily barred from Vermont courts for his criticisms.
His case is a lesson in how those in power, even when they know they are wrong can subvert constitutional guarantees of liberty.
Although Huminski transports antiques for a living, for the past three years he has been on a crusade watching how his state courts operate. He attends state court proceedings and then publicizes what he considers misconduct with posters placed in the windows of his Bennington home and in the windows of his van. He also distributes information about the proceedings to attorneys and government officials.
One of Huminski's posters contained the headline, "Judge Corsones: Butcher of the Constitution" and beneath it, Huminski listed five reasons why he made that claim. One of the reasons, Huminski charged was that Rutland District Court Judge Nancy Corsones "strips defendants of the right to defense counsel."
That poster resulted in him being banished from "all lands and property under the control of the Supreme Court and the Commissioner of Buildings and General Services, including the Rutland District Court, parking areas, and lands."
Judge M. Patricia Zimmerman of the Rutland District Court signed this sweeping trespass notice on May 27, 1999. The Bennington County Sheriff's Department served Huminski with the notice.
Clearly, Huminski is a gadfly, troubling the plodding steer of state. He may be bothersome, but he isn't a criminal. He has done nothing illegal. He has only exercised his rights as a U.S. citizen.
Zimmerman's trespass order is the third one issued against Huminski, but it is the broadest. The first trespass notice, issued only days earlier, prohibited Huminski from entering the Rutland District Court or its parking lot. The second trespass order barred him from entering Corsones' property.
If Huminski were to even park his van in the parking lot of a Vermont court, he could be arrested immediately.
The trespass notices were filed for one reason only -- Huminski criticized a state judge and her decisions.
Law enforcement officials make no claim that Huminski was disruptive, a public nuisance, or interfered with the administration of justice. He was quiet and attentive while in the courtroom and the courthouse. He neither picketed
the courthouse, nor engaged in vulgar or obscene expression while there. He simply posted his opinions.
The trespass orders have worked. They have kept a citizen-reporter from engaging in public debate about his state courts. Huminski has not been close to a Vermont court for nearly a year. His reporting has been silenced.
Instead, Huminski filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against Rutland and Bennington law enforcement officials claiming they have violated the Vermont Constitution and his First Amendment rights to attend and report on court proceedings. He acted as his own attorney. And lost.
On Oct. 20, 1999, U.S. District Court Judge J.G. Murtha, apparently blinded by Huminski's harsh criticism of a judge, dismissed his claims. Murtha concluded that Huminski had "failed to demonstrate a clearly established federal right which the defendants violated." Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled time and again that the people have a right to criticize government officials.
In his decision, Murtha quoted a U.S. Supreme Court case having to do with picketing near a courthouse -- a very narrow decision that has nothing at all to do the facts of Huminski's case. No one asserted that Huminski had picketed the Rutland District Court. He hadn't.
The Vermont Constitution, in Article 13 of its Declaration of Rights, states: "That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments, concerning the transactions of government, and therefore the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained." How clear can it be? Courtroom proceedings are "transactions of government." And "the people have a right ... of writing and publishing their sentiments" concerning those transactions.
Now, Huminski has Robert Corn-Revere, an experienced and well-respected First Amendment attorney from Washington, D.C., handling his case. They have filed an appeal with the U.S. Second Court of Appeals.
According to Corn-Revere, he hopes that his client gets "a clear statement from the Second Circuit that local governmental officials don't have the ability to simply exclude people from the courthouses in the state of Vermont.
"More specifically, we would hope to get a ruling that eliminates the ability to simply use mechanisms like trespass law to silence critics of local judges. In short, what we're looking for is a clear declaration from the Second Circuit involving the fundamental First Amendment rights that are at stake in this case in the situation we're presented with here."
These Vermont law enforcement officials and judges have the astounding gall to seriously think that they can bar a citizen from the state courts for all time because that citizen criticized a judge. They make no bones about it.
In the briefs filed with the court of appeals, the attorneys for the sheriff's department, city law enforcement and city officials baldly state they have such a right.
And they note in their briefs that Huminski "has never attempted to enter courthouse property since service of the (trespass) notice, and thus has neither been denied access nor suffered any criminal sanction." The briefs assert, "Huminski has suffered no actual harm."
The series of events involving Huminski might be worse than a collusion of arrogance on the part of those in power to silence a critic.
Widespread ignorance of the foundation of liberty upon which this nation is built -- especially on the part of judges and law enforcement officials could eventually bring our nation crumbling down -- as if an earthquake had fractured the structural basis of our constitutional values. An earthquake of ignorance.
Arrogance or ignorance? That isn't much of a choice. Either way, Huminski has been unfairly and illegally persecuted by the power structure in Vermont. The harm he has suffered, all of us share. The outcome of this case affects us all.
Note: In the early stages of JAIL, Ronald Branson, author of the JAIL Initiative was passing out literature to passers-by regarding his state recognized proposed initiative, outside a courthouse in Van Nuys, California. A sheriff's deputy then came out of the courthouse and told Branson he was trespassing on private property and would have to leave. Branson responded, "This is not private property, it is public property. This property belongs to the people. It is my property." The sheriff deputy then when for back up.Branson now asks how public property has now become "private property?" Did we the people sell our public property to some private person? When did the sale take place, and who now owns it? How much money did we get for it, and what happened to the money? How can a legal activity of promoting a state initiative in a public place become a crime? Are these judges frightened of us? We are their boss, and they work for us!The answer to the second to last question is "Yes," our servants are indeed afraid of us. JAIL will put them in their rightful place!J.A.I.L. (Judicial Accountability Initiative Law)
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