Last weekend, Stephanie Strong sent me a link to "Lawless America," a goo-gob of proposals by a character named William M. Windsor to reform our judicial system. She said somewhat cryptically that Windsor's proposals are "what is going to be presented next."
(I hate the passive voice.)
I assumed Strong meant that she would be looking for a way to get the Legislature to take up Windsor's proposals. I learn from Mr. Montgomery that that is not the case. Rather, according to Mr. Montgomery, Strong intends to present the Lawless America report at her next court hearing, on January 25 in Hughes County. That hearing will consider a claim from Rep. Brian Gosch and the Pennington County GOP that Strong's lawsuit against Gosch for his illegal use of his notary seal was frivolous and malicious and that Strong should thus pay Gosch's lawyer bills.
Oh my. It's bad enough Strong wasted her December 28 hearing making irrelevant political speeches. She now appears to be proposing to do the same thing in her defense on the 25th.
I thus post this open letter to Ms. Strong, in hopes of saving her some grief and money:
Dear Ms. Strong:
I read yesterday Mr. Montgomery's discussion of your court battle on his Political Smokeout blog yesterday. If I understand his account correctly, you plan to present the "Lawless America" report at your January 25 hearing in Pierre.
Don't. Don't don't don't. The purpose of the January 25 hearing is not to make political speeches. The purpose of that hearing is to defend yourself under existing state law from the complaint of frivolous and malicious litigation Gosch and the Republicans are trying to use to punish you for challenging them.
The Lawless America report is not a legal courtroom defense. It is a proposal for legislative action to reform the judiciary. The courtroom is not the proper venue for that report. When you sent that report to me, I assumed you intended to seek out legislators to sponsor those proposals as legislation.
Making a speech about that report in court January 25 will not help you win your case. Don't do it. On January 25, focus on the immediate issues of current South Dakota law. Focus on the notary statutes that Rep. Gosch (and Sec. Gant) clearly violated. Focus on the fact that you filed your lawsuit with a sincere concern that the law was being violated. Argue that your motions to change judges or venue or whatever were not efforts to keep the case from being heard but good-faith efforts to make sure the case was heard by a fair judge.
I cannot stress strongly enough: you must focus on the issues at hand, not on the bigger reforms you want the Legislature to make. I guarantee that if you waste time in your January 25 court hearing talking about the Lawless America proposals, you will only reinforce Team Gosch's contention that you are wasting the court's time with frivolous political grandstanding, not making a serious legal argument about violations of existing statute.
Be careful, be smart. Don't fall into the Republicans' trap... and don't give in to the temptation to make bigger points that don't fit in the courtroom.
Cory Allen Heidelberger
There's a time and a place for everything. I haven't studied William Windsor's proposal... although a cursory glance makes me think he's probably pals with the folks who brought us the really bad (and thankfully rejected) 2006 JAIL amendment. But whatever the merits, Stephanie Strong should not argue them in the Hughes County Courthouse. She should save her skin and argue the laws that are on the books, then head up the street to the Legislature to lobby for the laws she wishes were on the books.