The Three Stooges Get Their Butts Whacked In Court.
By Tim Vanderpool
AN AMERICAN FLAG hung limp at one end of the courtroom, its stripes funneled into a single, gold-fringed point. Several feet away, Pima County Chief Criminal Prosecutor David White leaned back in a swivel chair, his obelisk face breaking into occasional grins as he traded easy small talk with three defense attorneys hunched over a long table, and behind them a trickle of observers quietly filed in.
Meanwhile, just beyond Superior Court Room 408, Jerry Huerta was raising an angry finger to a small, curious crowd. "We can't be even tried under that American flag," the short, tightly built Mexican man said in rapid-fire staccato. "The gold trim makes it a military flag. That makes this a military court, not a people's court under common law, and this court is not restrained by the state constitution."
"That's right," added Carl Whalen, a tall, graying man by Huerta's side. "There's a social compact under common law, and this jurisdiction is extrinsic to that."
Next to Whalen, Bill Stultz stood silently, one hand tucked in his pants pocket. The third defendant in a trial these men contended could shake America's legal establishment to its roots, Stultz looked worried, and a bit out of place amidst the constitutional haranguing.
Later, Stultz would be left alone in the courtroom after Huerta and Whalen stomped out, defense lawyers consigned to arguing their cause in absentia.
But in the end it mattered little who was coming or going in a court that Huerta, Whalen and Stultz maintain has no right to try them for anything. Within a week--and following two days of jury deliberation--the three would be convicted on nine counts, including conducting a criminal syndicate and filing more than $40 million in false liens against a handful of judges, cops, even Tucson Police Chief Douglas Smith.
The men could each face nearly 30 years in jail.
Ironically, the drama unfolding that morning in late October belied a core that would be almost laughable if it hadn't turned deadly serious: All the liens were lodged after Whalen received citations for motoring around town minus a driver's license or registration tags.
And according to Whalen, the "criminal syndicate" consisted of three guys jawing over coffee at Johnnie's Family Restaurant on Tucson's east side. "The prosecution has been throwing around a lot of things," he now says. "But everything we've done is 100 percent within the law."
Even the initial traffic tickets were a gross violation of his rights, he claims, and the liens were just an attempt to make that point in no uncertain terms.
Huerta agrees, and says he isn't surprised at the trial's outcome. "What else could be expected? The liens weren't even adjudicated, and yet they convicted us on the assumption they were fraudulent."
He says he and his buddies are victims of a renegade legal system "created under a corporatism that circumvents the constitution and common law. But the common, organic law holds that a man is free to do anything that's not trespassing against his neighbor."
But prosecutor White calls the whole argument an increasingly popular line of bunk: "These kind of cases are becoming more common," he says. "And attempting to coerce government officials is also a growing phenomenon.
"There have always been people who claimed sovereignty issues and schemes to use common law as a defense. It's been around since I've been a prosecutor. But it's totally bogus."
Common law theories embraced by Whalen and others date back to the 11th and 12th century, when English kings granted their justices the power to create legal precedent in day-to-day decisions, and independent of legislative statute.
The concept accompanied colonists to American shores, where it was eventually modified piecemeal. Later, state legislatures began superseding common law with their own statutes, and the result is a contemporary mishmash of sometimes overlapping legal tenets.
That conglomeration has also spawned a legacy of often murky judicial interpretations, a gray area traditionally tapped by such groups as Montana's Freemen and other so-called constitutionalists. They regularly argue that any strictures other than those coming from common law simply don't apply to them.
And just as regularly they lose very badly in court.
The three convicted Tucsonans insist they have no ties to the Montana Freemen, nor to any paramilitary extremist groups.
But in Arizona, constitutionalist beliefs were behind the creation of the Phoenix-based Arizona Township Association, an amorphous band possibly numbering in the hundreds, who contend they're free to establish their own independent courts. The township isn't a real place, but was merely created on paper to promote "people's inherent rights," says Huerta, the organization's notary.
In fact, Huerta's notarial seal showed up on the liens he and Stultz helped Whalen file, a stamp prosecutors say has no official merit.
And neither does common law, at least in the way Whalen and his friends construe it, says UA constitutional law professor Robert Glennon.
"The U.S. Constitution does not contain common law," he says. "These guys are talking about something that was judicially created apart from state legislatures or the constitution.
But to assume common law takes precedence "is just silly," Glennon says. "I really don't know why exactly they would be relying on it in that case."
Either way, the next strategic step varies among the three convicted constitutionalists. No doubt they're closely eyeing a similar case in which Tucsonan Bernard Eugene Oliver, Jr. stands accused of placing a $10-million lien against county Justice of the Peace Luis Castillo.
White says Whalen, Huerta and Stultz could get probation. "But I can't see them doing well with it. After all, these guys still haven't admitted doing anything wrong."
Huerta says he plans to appeal, and claims the American people are the true losers in this case. "Common law is either absolute and immutable or not," he says. "Now we're basically political pariahs because of our beliefs, even as we see this country going to hell in a handbasket."
While admitting he's not entirely up to rhetorical speed with his cronies, Bill Stultz, a medical X-ray processor, says the whole thing did get a touch out of hand. He says he's never had so much as a traffic ticket, and that he was just helping Whalen serve the liens just to save his friend some money.
"Now, if everything that has happened since weren't so ridiculous, it would scare the shit out of me," he says.
But Stultz is planning to appeal the verdict, and says he applauds White's ability to buffalo a jury. "I take my hat off to him," he says. "He's wrong, but he's good."
Ironically, of the three, Whalen seems most ready to put the whole mess behind him. Still, he maintains the judicial process had his accusers running scared. "Right now, we have the bear in the corner," he says. "That bear can't afford to let us win."
While maintaining that his legal logic is solid--"we didn't just think this crap up one day in our heads or something"--he admits to mostly feeling guilty for dragging his friends into the legal morass. "None of these guys have any prior criminal record at all," he says.
Now he says he'll attempt to remove the liens before the sentencing date, "to let the bear out of that corner. The truth will never come out anyway, and now to prove them wrong, our families will be the ones paying the price."
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