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Judge calls out litigant for presenting "sovereign citizen" theories; urges sanctions for use of such tactics

By Kenneth Lowe | Jan 26, 2015

An Illinois judge earlier this month dubbed the arguments presented by a pro se litigant as typical of the so-called "sovereign citizen" movement and suggested courts impose monetary sanctions on parties who use tactics like presenting non-nonsensical theories intended to harass those in the legal system.

In a short special concurrence to a First District Appellate Court order, Justice Mathias W. Delort said he completely agreed with the panel's decision to affirm the lower court and deny John C. Justice's appeal, but wrote separately to address what he asserts was "a troubling aspect of this case."

“The defendant, John Justice, espouses a number of theories which are not merely incorrect, but which have been manifestly rejected by hundreds of years of American jurisprudence,” Delort wrote.

Delort said these theories included Justice's demand for a jury trial even though jury trials aren't available in statutory enforcement proceedings, his adherence to the belief that debt can only be paid in gold and silver, and his "bizarre assertion that he can 'remove' the presiding judge and the Attorney General simply by saying so.'"

“All three are hallmarks of what is colloquially known as the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement,” Delort wrote. “It is clear that the purpose of asserting these theories is simply to harass the judges, lawyers, and others involved in litigation against the defendant."

Followers of the sovereign citizen movement believe that either they aren't subject to laws or that they get to choose which ones to obey, often invoking the U.S. Constitution to do so. Members of this anti-government movement have been accused of clogging the court system by filing nonsensical documents while refusing to follow court rules.

Delort said that even though the trial court and attorney general, who brought the case against Justice, cited "irrefutable authorities to Justice explaining why his theories are nothing but nonsense," he "nonetheless persists in presenting them.”

Pointing to the reasons he gave in Parkway Bank v. Korzen, et al. (2013), Delort wrote "I believe that whenever a party uses such tactics, we should impose substantial monetary sanctions to deter similar conduct in the future, and to compensate the taxpayers of this State for the costs incurred by the court system in having to address them.”

Delort's special concurrence came on Jan. 12, more than five years after the Illinois Attorney General's office filed a complaint against Justice's adhesive label business, Microcosm, for a number of violations of the Environmental Protection Act and for not having certain permits.

In 2012, Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy entered summary judgment in favor of the attorney general's office. She later ordered Justice to comply with terms of injunctive relief and pay a $50,000 civil penalty.

And in 2013, the circuit judge granted the attorney general's motion seeking the turnover of Justice's bank account after he had not made payments towards the assessed penalties.

Justice appealed, claiming the lower court denied him his constitutional right to a jury, was wrong to turn over his bank account because debts can only be paid in gold or silver,  and erred by presiding over the case even though he removed her.

The appellate court rejected Justice's arguments and affirmed the the lower court. Justice Sheldon A. Harris wrote the court's unpublished order, in which Delort and Justice Maureen E. Connors concurred. Unlike Delort's special concurrence, the court's ruling made no mention of the sovereign citizen movement.

The panel explained that in addition to failing to follow some court rules in his filings, Justice failed to file a timely notice of appeal over Flanagan's earlier orders. As such, Sheldon said the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to consider Justice's arguments over the lower court's summary judgment ruling and imposition of penalties, which means it could not review two of his claims, including the one over his right to a jury trial argument.

The panel did, however, reject Justice's claim that the circuit judge was wrong to order the turnover of his bank account because debts can only be paid in gold and silver, not in paper money. Sheldon said "Federal Reserve notes are legal tender."

The First District also rejected Justice's contention that the rulings couldn't stand because he had removed the circuit judge and attorney general, under authority he received by taking an oath when he was appointed an officer in the Army.

"Defendant, however, provides no support for why the taking of this oath gives him the authority to 'remove' officers of the court at his whim, and this claim necessitates no further review," Harris wrote for the court.

Delort's special concurrence in this case was not the first time he has served on a panel faced such tactics on the part of defendants.

In 2013, Delort wrote the First District opinion in the foreclosure case of Parkway Bank v. Korzen, et al. and called the defendants' appeal groundless.

“Although defendants papered the record with voluminous pleadings, nowhere do they actually deny that they had a valid loan secured by property they own, which they failed to pay, and which requires the property to be sold to pay the debt,” Delort wrote in Parkway.

He added, “Some people might classify those who engage in these tactics as ‘sovereign citizens,’ but regardless of the nomenclature, their methods are not only counterproductive, but detrimental to the efficient and fair administration of justice."

"Because of the growing number of these cases, we issue this opinion to provide guidance to the many courts confronted with similar matters," Delort wrote in Parkway, before going on to order the defendants to show cause why the panel shouldn't impose a $10,000 fine on them.

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