The state Senate was near-unanimous Tuesday in approving legislation aimed at ending the “domestic terrorism” caused by common-law devotees who falsely present themselves as public officials.
“That’s anarchy,” thundered Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, as he described the problem.
Common-law courts have sprung up throughout the Midwest and West. Members of these groups set up their own courts without legal authority, declare themselves to be public officials and try to enforce the rules of their courts on the public.
In Idaho, these groups have sent documents to public officials and, when their demands weren’t answered, tried to make arrests, said Freeman Duncan, legislative liaison for the Idaho attorney general’s office. They have harassed public officials and have tried to serve bogus legal documents on county clerks, judges, and even Gov. Phil Batt.
One group tried to arrest the governor because he wouldn’t release one of its members from the Canyon County Jail, said Lawrence Wasden, deputy chief of staff for the attorney general.
Gary DeMott, head of the Idaho Sovereignty Association and founder of a common-law court that he called a “court of justice,” said his group is trying to uphold “American justice.”
“That’s what we stand for, the due process of law,” he said. “Under federal law, you’re guilty until proven innocent. Most people don’t know that yet, but they will.”
Last year, legislators passed a law that made it illegal for common-law courts to file unofficial documents.
Tuesday, the Senate voted 31-1 for a bill that will further protect public officials and private citizens from the harassment of common-law courts.
“This legislation is intended to give prosecutors a tool to go after these people and protect our public officials,” said Darrington.
If the bill passes the House and is signed into law, it would make it an enhanced misdemeanor for people to impersonate a public officer.
According to the law, self-appointed common-law officials who try to assert power could face a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Senators disagreed. “What they do amounts to taking your ball home when you lose,” said Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden. “We’re not going to allow them to upset the ship of state by being sore losers.”
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