Freemen throughout the West and Midwest are snubbing courts, baffling attorneys and trying to govern themselves based on common law.
Common-law courts that recognize only the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions and the Bible have surfaced in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and other states, according to law enforcement officials.
Advocates of such court systems are scheduled to visit Coeur d’Alene next month to help a North Idaho group set up its own court. They even plan to try some civil cases while they’re at it.
“We’re all ready,” said Coeur d’Alene’s Gorden Ormesher, who doesn’t consider himself part of the freemen movement. “We just have to work out the kinks.”
The freemen holed up near Jordan, Mont., established a common-law court in their stronghold called Justus Township.
It’s impossible to tell how many of these courts have been established, but anti-government and human rights activists agree about 30 states have some form of unrecognized, alternative court.
“It’s not at all like Judge (Lance) Ito’s court with the O.J. trial,” said Dennis Logan, a retired St. Louis-area Realtor who will be a guest speaker in Coeur d’Alene on April 20 and 21.
“People appear before a jury of their true peers - people who know something about them.”
Bill Smythe, leader of the LaClede, Idaho-based Idaho Citizens Awareness Network, calls common-law courts a “return to common-sense law.”
Jurors meet in hotels or restaurants and resolve problems by discussing whether someone’s rights were violated. There is no judge, merely a jury chairman.
“It’s like when you were a kid and had a neighborhood dispute,” Smythe said. “The parents got together and figured out who was right, who was wrong and what to do about it.”
The courts are not recognized by the legal system.
“It means trouble,” said Richard Wintroy, an Oklahoma deputy attorney general. “These writ-writers are using jibberish to justify the fact that they are deadbeats. They take advantage of people who are having hard times.”
Participants often draw poor people - such as farmers who have lost land in a foreclosure - into using the court system to get back at public officials, he said.
Oklahoma anti-government activists tried to get the sheriff of one county to arrest the sheriff of another county for refusing to serve a common-law warrant.
In Kansas, the attorney general’s office warned county sheriff’s departments to seize documents generated by common-law courts and treat them as criminal evidence.
Some of the Montana freemen are accused of filing liens against public officials and making threats through their common-law court.
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