April 22, 1996 in Nation/World

Alternative Court Offers Parallel Legal Universe Cda Hotel Provides Site For Common-Law Justice

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Pam Phillips paced before 12 men and women seated behind a folding table Sunday afternoon and explained that she no longer wants to be a U.S. citizen.

Phillips said she had filed papers with the county clerk, the Internal Revenue Service and the secretary of state rescinding her citizenship.

She had written U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. She had waited 30 days and received no response. She was ready.

“I want to affirm my freedom,” the Idaho County woman said.

“Are you willing to face any negative ramifications by the U.S. government because of your actions today?” asked a man from behind the table.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

One by one, the “jurors” at the table raised their hands, unanimously granting Phillips’ request. The crowd cheered. She was on her way to becoming a “sovereign citizen” - a free woman not bound to government. Or so the theory goes.

This is a common-law court, an alternative judicial system favored by some angry Americans who don’t recognize the authority of the federal government.

About 100 constitutionalists, militia members and frustrated residents from Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon established this one Sunday in two conference rooms at the Coeur d’Alene Inn.

Dozens of onlookers paid $125 each - or $150 a couple - to attend.

The new court is dubbed Our One Supreme Court of Common Law.

Participants face no judge, use no lawyers and seek to mete out justice as it was done two centuries ago - before the existing system, they say, was muddled by rules.

Similar courts are springing up across the country, each a little different. Some seek to be the only legitimate court. Others, like this one, are a parallel court, offering a choice to residents distrustful of rich lawyers and powerful judges.

Participants admit they’ve had difficulty being recognized by the existing system, but say it’s only a matter of time.

“Common law is the basis for all that we have now. We’ve just lost it all along the way,” said Coeur d’Alene resident and court organizer Gorden Ormesher, a retired contractor. “This is just people judging people.”

The courts don’t handle criminal actions - they’re not ready for that, said guest lecturer Sally Frech, an Oklahoman who claims to have set up courts in 30 counties there. They primarily help citizens proclaim their sovereignty.

Some constitutionalists believe the federal government duped them into participating in an illegal system through “contracts”- driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, birth certificates. By giving up those contracts, some believe, they can be free of obligations, like paying taxes.

On Sunday, gatherers appointed 13 court clerks, three justices, several jury members and a constable - E. Tom Stetson, founder of Concerned Citizens of Idaho, a loosely knit band of constitutionalists - to hear a handful of cases.

“We don’t have a sheriff,” said Dennis Lang, a retired Missouri Realtor who coached the group. “The sheriff was for Nottingham. We don’t use what they used in the king’s court. Ours is the American version.”

Unlike the freemen group holed up near Jordan, Mont., these court officers have no permanent duties, and new people will be appointed each time court is in session. Ormesher said participants here don’t share the freemen’s doctrine.

Jurors serve as decision-makers and are picked by those appearing before them. Members can be of either sex, but must be 18 years old and not a lawyer, banker, politician or U.S. government employee.

After participants debated two hours over details on how to set up the court, Frech urged them to keep it simple. “Fewer rules you make, fewer rules you break,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SOURCE OF AUTHORITY The court is based wholly on the U.S. and state constitutions, the Bible, “universal faith in God” and “common sense.”

This sidebar appeared with the story: SOURCE OF AUTHORITY The court is based wholly on the U.S. and state constitutions, the Bible, “universal faith in God” and “common sense.”


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