The fantasy-grand jury league continues its game-playing around the state. Stephanie Strong sends the media an update implying that her fellow vigilante-litigationists are using as a guide the tactics of a New York group that pretends to be the "Unified New York Common Law Grand Jury."

Included in Strong's e-mail are two writs of mandamus, sent last week to trouble New York Judge Charles M. Tailleur and court clerk Michelle Carrol. There two poor folks stand accused of high treason against the King (the people? Elvis? what's the difference?). UNCLGJ (Uncle Gidge? Who knows, since the writ is filed anonymously, with an inscrutable signature from its "Administrator") demands that Clerk Carrol respond directly and not talk to any lawyers (all conspirators against the King). UNCLGJ orders Judge Tailleur to pay a fine of 100 ounces of silver. Apparently the judge is supposed to fax that silver to UNCLGJ, since UNCLGJ's writs provide no contact information other than fax number 888-891-8977.

The common law grand jury movement is a dangerous combination of stupidity and terrorism. UNCLGJ blows a smokescreen of quotes and arcane legal citations, makes absurd demands in all capital letters, and intimidates people with accusations of treason, the sort of absolute charge that inflames passions and rouses less thoughtful adherents (yes, the rubes showing up to shadowy weekend meetings to forward their delusions of tri-corner hat granduer) to dangerous action.

Using UNCLGJ as a guide is the last thing we want South Dakota citizens doing. Stephanie, please tell your neighbors to drop this fake grand jury posturing and concentrate on honest, practical citizen activism. Call your legislators, lobby in Pierre, write letters to the editor, run for office... but for Pete's sake, don't run around calling public servants traitors and shaking them down for silver.

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I've met failed (and potential?) House candidate Stephanie Strong. She's a cheerful, friendly lady who's always been eagerly polite to me. In person, she makes me want to be nice to her.

But politically, on paper, she makes me want to holler. Strong is promoting another crazy idea that, as best as I can make out, constitutes an effort at vigilante anarchy. Strong is organizing what she calls a "common law grand jury" in Meade County:

PUBLIC ELECTION FOR THE REINSTATEMENT OF A MEADE COUNTY COMMON LAW GRAND JURY

“Whenever people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government” - Thomas Jefferson

PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT – We the People will be holding an election for the reinstating of the Common Law Grand Jury here in Meade County at Piedmont City Hall, 111 2nd Street, Piedmont, South Dakota 57769 on Saturday November 2, 2013 at 09:30 AM. There will be a 35 min presentation starting at 09:30 AM and a vote by showing of hands will be at 10:05 PM. All participants will then be invited to register for the Common Law Grand Jury. This is open to the public [Stephanie Strong, press release, 2013.10.29].

Strong tells me the "common law grand jury" is all about the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and natural law. Any time I hear anyone outside a political philosophy classroom talking about natural law, I take that as a sign that we're running down the rabbit hole.

There is no such thing as a "common law grand jury." There never has been a common law grand jury in Meade County. It's just another of those fringe ideas that catches on with strong-brew Tea Party types who read the Constitution like The DaVinci Code and think they've discovered some profound new idea to fight the New World Order. Like the similarly bogus "sovereignt" movement, it's also popular with tax dodgers:

Ed Siceloff held a meeting Thursday in the Beaver Area Public Library to begin the process of creating a common law grand jury.

...Siceloff -- who was sentenced in federal court in 2010 to serve one year in prison for failing to pay taxes on more than $700,000 in income -- said the jury will investigate “violations of rights.” He claims the formation of such a body is lawful [Kristen Doerschner, "Group Seeks to Form Common Law Grand Jury," Ellwood (PA) City Ledger, 2013.09.23].

The common law grand jury is really just a club for cranks with no legal authority:

Siceloff cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision, U.S. vs. Williams, as confirming his belief.

But Wes Oliver, an associate professor of law at the Duquesne School of Law, said there is no such thing as a common law grand jury under current law, and the Supreme Court decision being cited does not mean what those seeking to create such juries claim.

“They are taking some straight language from the case and using it for their own purpose,” Oliver said. He said even in the days when such a thing existed, there was an official procedure for forming such a jury.

“It’s not just people getting together and saying they’re mad about something and calling themselves a grand jury,” Oliver said [Doerschner, 2013.09.23].

A bunch Revolutionary War re-enactors calling themselves a grand jury can't compel citizens to appear in court. A mob can't order the sheriff to drag someone to court. As Professor Oliver points out, if the mob tries to drag someone to court, that's kidnapping.

Some people play fantasy football; Stephanie Strong likes to play fantasy Constitution-ball. Have fun, kids, but please, don't show up at anyone's door with handcuffs.

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Emerging unscathed from GOP lawyer Joel Arends's overhyped interview with Minnehaha County GOP committeeman Gary Dykstra, State Representative Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) is on the campaign trail this weekend. He makes the long trek to Rapid City Saturday to speak at an afternoon "Constitution Rally" in Memorial Park. South Dakota Citizens for Liberty—you know, the local Tea Party—is helping one Jack Heyd organize the event.

I can't find word on whether Bill Napoli will show up to join Rep. Nelson for the first public debate of the 2014 GOP Senate primary. Such a debate would likely be more fun and instructive than the rest of the program. Check out Rep. Elizabeth Marty May's (R-27/Kyle) posting of this program of speakers:

There is a Constitutional Rally at Memorial Park this Saturday, May 4th at the bandshell. Speakers will be Rep. Stacey Nelson, Rep. Lance Russell, Rep. Chip Campbell, Constitutional Instructor Stephanie Strong, and Constitutional Speaker Scott Bartlett from Sioux Falls. Please take the time to come and support the rally and these amazing speakers. Being uniformed these days is a scary thing! I would appreciate you all sharing this with your friends so we have a successful turnout! We look forward to seeing you all there! Together we can make a difference! [Rep. Elizabeth Marty May, Facebook post, 2013.04.30]

Constitutional "Instructor" Stephanie Strong? The same gal who doesn't know the difference between a courtroom and a political soapbox? Uff da. I hope "Constitutional Instructor" is a paying gig... though I pity the fools who would pay her.

 

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Stephanie Strong has filed an appeal with the South Dakota Supreme Court. The appeal doesn't tell us much we don't know: Strong simply thinks that every judge who has ruled against her in the past several months is wrong.

Strong's inability to follow the law and focus her arguments in a timely fashion on the points of law Secretary of State Jason Gant and Rep. Brian Gosch violated have reduced the chances of holding those public officials accountable. Her appeal to the Supreme Court will likely do more to fuel the politics of personal destruction played by the conservative lobe of the South Dakota blogosphere.

Strong will not win any redress from the Supreme Court. But if the justices will hear her, and if she can restrict her appeal to discussion of the very dry points of law laid out in her filing, we can perhaps hope that a Supreme Court hearing on Strong's complaints will at least require Gant and Gosch to explain themselves and admit that they didn't respect notary law.

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Speaking of Medicaid expansion, yesterday brought the first meeting of the South Dakota Legislature's Bipartisan Medicaid Expansion Exploratory Committee (B-MEEC? No! Be bold!). According to SDPB, 21 citizens came forward to speak in favor of accepting the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Two citizens testified in opposition... and they're both nuts:

“We all have heard many stories that tug at the heartstrings, but we have to be realistic,” says Florence Thompson from Caputa. She is one of two people who came forward to oppose expansion of Medicaid.

“The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. This was said by Margaret Thatcher,” Thompson says. “Obamacare, Medicaid, all these things are a form of socialism, and our government is, in fact, bankrupt.”

Thompson says attempts at central control distort the free market through price controls and regulation [Victoria Wicks, "Committee Hears Consequences of No Health Insurance," SDPB.org, 2013.02.20].

It must be nice to latch onto a few key words—socialism, central control—and use them as your excuse not to think about real policy issues.

Stephanie Strong from Rapid City says she opposes Medicaid expansion because she wants limited government, and she expresses distrust of current insurance and healthcare practices.

“You go for trip to the doctor and it costs your elderly people a thousand dollars for a blood draw,” Strong says. “I think that the administration of the government is stealing from South Dakotans and other folks out there that are taking this fallacy about Medicaid’s going to fix you.”

A majority can be wrong. But when the politically inept Stephanie Strong and Florence Thompson are the only people telling you not to do something, there's a strong possibility that you should go with the flow and do it.

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Speaker Brian Gosch's effort to make Stephanie Strong pay his lawyer bills gets a hearing on March 22. Strong sued last year to get Gosch off the ballot for violating notary law by notarizing his own nominating petitions. Alas, she committed a comedy of errors (and a violation of state law to boot) and makes it relatively easy for Gosch and his GOP lawyers to argue that she wasted the court's time with a frivolous lawsuit.

In response, Strong offers this pro se brief to the court:

[mobile users, try here!]

Strong, bless her heart, finally finds a precedent for her initial lawsuit, a case in Pennsylvania where the court invalidated nominating petitions that a judicial candidate had notarized himself, just as Gosch did, and kept him off the ballot. (Of course, the story wouldn't be complete without noting that the lawbreaker in question, Philip J. Berg, is a right-wingnut just like Strong: he's an active birther, arguing in court that President Obama was born in Kenya.)

The Pennsylvania notary statute reads much like the South Dakota statutes that Gosch violated. It's just too bad that Strong and her Rapid City string-pullers couldn't have tracked down this legal precedent on the Googles during the original hearing when it might have made a difference. Now the Berg-Pennsylvania precedent is a new argument, which will have no bearing on the court's determination of whether the monkeyshines Strong put forth in court before Gosch's counter-action constituted a frivolous and malicious action.

It's also too bad that Strong faxed her last ten pages to the court upside down.

I hate seeing Republicans like Gosch use their party's monolithic power to disregard the law and punish those who challenge them. But in this case, Gosch is going to win, and Strong seems incapable of doing anything to stop him.

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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.

Sincerely,
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.

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Pat Powers serves his GOP establishment masters by posting Rep. Brian Gosch and the Pennington County GOP's motion to string up Stephanie Strong for daring to challenge them in court. As usual, it's not enough that the GOP machine beat its challengers—they've already gotten every judge along the way to reject Strong's complaint about Gosch's misuse of his notary seal. The powers that be insist on crushing Strong, now asking a judge to rule her suit frivolous and malicious and force Strong to pay Gosch's legal bills under SDCL 15-17-51.

Not helping her cause is Strong herself. She secretly recorded her telephonic hearing with Judge Trandahl on December 28 and sent that audio file to media outlets such as the Madville Times and that Sioux Falls paper. In making that recording, Strong violated SDCL 16-20-2.

Worse, Strong predictably wasted her hearing time before Judge Trandahl. According to page 6 of the Gosch motion, Strong "made no argument regarding the statutes, administrative rules, or case law that applied in the case. Rather, Strong took the opportunity to make a candidate stump speech of sorts, speaking of a number of varied political and personal issues that had nothing to so with the legal issue at hand."

I worry that Stephanie Strong has been used. Self-proclaimed defenders of conservatism have been waging a concerted campaign against Speaker-in-waiting Gosch throughout the past year. They've gone to great pains to hide their identity with anonymous robocalls and mailings. Much as in the case with Strong's lawsuit, they've criticized Gosch and other GOP leaders, but they've never stepped forward with practical remedies or advocacy for candidates to replace Gosch and their other bêtes noires.

Strong should pay close attention to her inbox during the coming days. If the folks who have advised her and helped write her briefs against Gosch suddenly fall silent, she'll know she's been played. And we will know that the people grumbling about Gosch lack the guts, not to mention the legal competence, to mount a serious challenge to the Republican leadership.

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