Libertarian activist faces arraignment on criminal contempt charges on July 9.

Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter hands out jury nullification flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse last January. On Wednesday, that act got his arrested. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – After Mark Schmidter got booked into Orange County Corrections, two things surprised him about the jail on 33rd Street.
“It’s relatively clean,” he said. “It’s not like a third world deal.”
The second thing is what the jail officers asked him to do.
“Naturally they sent me in for a psychiatric evaluation,” he said. “They must have figured anyone willing to go to jail for handing out pieces of paper on public property … I guess they wanted to say, ‘Are you crazy?’ “
Schmidter laughed a day later about the psyche exam that he easily passed, but on July 9, he will once again appear before Judge Belvin Perry, chief justice of the Ninth Circuit Court of Orange and Osceola counties, to face a charge of criminal content of court. The charge stems from Schmidter’s decision on Wednesday to hand out jury nullification flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse – something he had been doing on and off since last September, nearly a year ago.
And if not a single deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had been willing to arrest him since Jan. 29 – when Judge Perry first issued an administrative order banning anyone from distributing those flyers, which encourage jurors to consider voting not guilty if they reject the law a defendant is being charged with – why would he suddenly get arrested and charged now?
And why would Judge Perry bring Schmidter into his courtroom to post his bond when Perry is presiding over the high profile Casey Anthony trial, and why postpone that trial briefly to address Schmidter’s case?
Schmidter said he has no clue, although he suspects that another judge may have learned about the flyers and asked Perry to intervene and have him arrested. But he’s not quite sure.
What he does know is that after weeks of handing out the flyers, everything changed in a split second on Wednesday.
“I’m standing there handing out flyers when some (sheriff’s) lieutenant says ‘You’ve got to go to the free spech zone,’ “ Schmidter said, a reference to the special taped-off zone near Orange Avenue, in front of the courthouse, that protestors are asked to stay in.
“So I said, ‘I thought I could be here,’ and he said, ‘You’re arrested,’ “ Schmidter said. It had been that simple.
“I was there on Monday and Tuesday,” Schmidter said. “I never got busted.”
For the sheriff’s office, and the court, to have allowed him to distribute the flyers for weeks without arresting him, and then suddenly put handcuffs on him amounts to selective enforcement, Schmidter said.
“If you have a law, it has to be equally distributed,” he said. “You can’t pick and choose who it applies to. You’ve got to bust all of them or none of them.”
As soon as he was told he was being arrested, Schmidter said, he fell to the ground and became totally non-responsive. The sheriff’s office responded by calling an emergency medical response unit to the scene.
“They put me in an ambulance, because I wasn’t moving,” Schmidter said. “If you’re not doing anything, they have no choice but to take you to the hospitall. They don’t know if the cops have done something to you or not. Once you move your eyes or even talk, that means you can talk. Since I wasn’t responding, taking to them or anything. They can’t move you, because for all they know you may have had a heart attack or something. The police were calling up their supervisor asking ‘What do I do here,’ and they all said if he isn’t moving or isn’t responsive, we have to take him to the hospital. That’s what you have to do. If you tried to move, they can always say you’re resisting.”
He was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he got checked out for 15 minutes, then released back into the custody of the sheriff’s office. He was transported back to the courthouse, where he was placed in a holding cell until Judge Perry could see him.
Throughout all this, Schmidter said, the sheriff’s deputies he dealt with were “very gentlemanly people. They were all really nice people. I’m going to give credit where credit is due. All the cops I’ve associated with handing out flyers all these months, we were on a first name basis.”
He was taken to Perry’s courtroom around 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, on the day before the defense rested in the Casey Anthony murder trial.
“The jury wasn’t there, and Casey Anthony wasn’t there, either,” Schmidter said. “So the judge just asked me if I owned property, and I said yes, and he said the bail is $2,500. He asked if I would need a lawyer and I said no, I would take care of that myself.”
His arraignment was set for July 9, and then he was transported to the Orange County jail to be booked. Friends posted his $250 bond, and he was released early this morning, around 1 a.m.
“The charge is criminal contempt of court,” Schmidter said. “They also put a no-trespassing order on me (at the courthouse). I don’t know how they can do that with public property. If I need to go there, I have to call first and get authorization or approval.”
Judge Perry had issued an administrative order last January banning anyone from handing out written material to prospective jurors on the grounds that it represented a form of jury tampering. The order may have been directed at Schmidter, who had spent the previous four months visiting the courthouse to hand out flyers from the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA, which encourages them to engage in jury nullification — or voting to acquit someone of a crime even when the evidence strongly indicates the person is guilty.
FIJA’s goal is to encourage jurors to vote not guilty if they disagree with or disapprove of the law the defendant is being charged with. That result, the organization based in Montana believes, will send a message to state and federal lawmakers that there are too many victimless crimes that people are being prosecuted for.
Schmidter endorsed the concept and spent four months handing out the flyers every Monday morning in front of the courthouse — until Perry issued his order on Jan. 31.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded with a lawsuit challenging the judge’s order, which FIJA supported. Schmidter had started handing out the flyers again this month, as the media swarmed onto the Orange County Courthouse for the high profile Anthony trial.
When he goes before Judge Perry again on July 9, “I’m going to plead not guilty,” Schmidter said. “We’ll have to see what happens then.”
But he still believes he has a strong free speech right to defend here.
“I don’t care if you’re handing out the Koran – it’s your right on public property to hand out whatever you want,” he said. “This isn’t Wal-Mart, this is the courthouse steps.”

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Freelining with Mike Freeman: A friendship going cold turkey.

Sometimes it feels like a once rich friendship has reached a .... (Photo by Michael Freeman).

It started when, in a very hectic and busy moment one afternoon, my cell phone rang.
I glanced at the phone number, which was coming from a 407 area code – the Orlando region. I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered the call.
A very familiar male voice said, “So Mike, why have you been avoiding my calls?”
And I froze.
Anyone can understand, and easily relate to, moments like this. It’s kind of like getting caught changing clothes in your bedroom when a surprise party barges in. Or like having someone walk into the bathroom when you’re in there at the very moment when you desire privacy above all else. It can be embarrassing, and make you grimace, and leave you feeling totally humiliated. It’s one of those massive “Ooops” moments.
I had mere seconds to come up with a snappy response.
So I reverted, as quickly as possible, to the only thing I could think of doing: faking it.
“Hey, how are you doing?” I said, with so much forced, fake enthuiasm, so much phony Wow it’s great to hear from you cheer that I knew instantly how lame I sounded. So did he.
“Why have you been avoiding my calls?” he said again, his anger barely concealed, and I suspect the reason he said it was because … well, it was true. Wow, was it true. His number safely registered in my cell phone with his name on it, I could see when he was calling and conveniently refuse to accept it. If only, I thought, some folks could be good at taking hints, it would all have been so wonderfully easy for me.
Who would have thought he would have called under a different number that I didn’t recognize. I was cringing.
So I went to plan B: change the subject.
“Yeah, I haven’t heard from you in a while,” I said, again with as much fake sincerity as I could muster. I knew this one wasn’t going anywhere, either. I stumbled through a few more words that my tortured brain has mercifully blanked out by now, only to have him cut me off and then counterstrike. He laid on the guilt, in spades, about how in his hour of need I was avoiding him, cutting him off, abandoning him …
Then he reverted to the litany of delicate problems he was going through, the trials and tribulations that no one should have to endure …

So I finished this delightful torture session of a phone call in the only way I could: a complete and total act of cowardice — and surrender. I pledged my complete loyalty to him. When he called from now on, I swore passionately, I would definitely answer and be there for him.
Then I hung up, and felt like sobbing.
I’ve never been addicted to anything – cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, pills, gambling – so I have no idea what it feels like to go cold turkey. The closest I’ve ever come is trying to give up drinking coffee every morning, only to experience a week of caffeine-craving headaches that brought me dashing back to Dunkin’ Donuts in record time. But I suspect that with strong determination and plenty of aspirin, I could lick that one, too. Problem is, I love coffee.
Now I feel like I am going cold turkey after all. Not on coffee, tobacco, booze or hard drugs, but something else: friendship.
Talk about a weird feeling.
I’m blessed in this world to have a lot of friends, and I’ll admit, a lot of them give generously of themselves to me. And a lot of them don’t ask for much in return.
Having friends who are relaxed, well centered and drama-free is quite nice. Being with them is like sailing on a boat across a lake; the waters are always calm and smooth. Sometimes the conversations get a bit dull and repititious, because they don’t seek out problems in their lives, and calamities avoid them as well. We chit chat about pleasant surface stuff. There are worse situations.
But since these tend to make up the bulk of my friendships, I wonder sometimes if I occasionally look for friendships with people who … well, bring more to the table.
They can be exciting. Unpredictable. A bit wild. And, in their best moments, irresistably fun to be with. They take you to places you haven’t been to before. After spending so many days on the quiet side of town, it’s unbelievably exhilarating to walk on the wild side for a change.
But for every high moment that comes down the pike, you learn all too quickly that the drama doesn’t stop. And it isn’t all fun, either. The drama continues … in a lot of ways you never expected, or ever wanted to experience.
And you find yourself becoming the one they repeatedly turn to, sometimes in desperation, every time they step in it and can’t conveniently scrape it off their shoes.
I have three friends who seem to go from one manic crisis to the next. One of them I couldn’t abandon no matter how much trouble he gets into. Another one I’ve wanted to strangle for the past four years. And the third one – the one who called me in that underhanded manner, using a phone number I didn’t recognize – finally prompted me, in almost complete desperation, to make that fatal decision: It was time to go cold turkey.
It’s not easy. But after the umpteenth crisis phone call, followed by the heartfelt plea outlining his fears about the future and the tortured worries about the latest mess he’s gotten himself into, I found myself struggling to stay on the phone. I could feel the guilt soaring through me – why do such bad things happen to people I like and care about? What can I do to help? What if I drop everything and concentrate solely on helping him –
Wait. Hold it.
Been there.
Done that.

And then, waking up at 3 a.m., and lying there in bed in the darkness, feeling the tears roll down my cheeks, I knew I was in over my head. You can get too emotionally involved sometimes, for all the wrong reason. And I knew it was time to cut ties.
I did ignore his phone calls for days. I wanted him to get the hint. I couldn’t take his crisis-filled existance anymore. I couldn’t deal with it, emotionally, at this time in my life, being the constant support system that always comes to the rescue. Call it selfish of me … except everyone else I know has been telling me to cut ties with him ages ago, before he drags me down with him. Rather than telling me I was cold and heartless, my drama-free-friends were cheering me on. So I finally took their advice.
I figured it would be easy. Avoid him, he takes the hint, he goes away, life becomes sane again.
Until he tricked me and caught me off guard. Then he hit me with that tormented voice, about the troubles he’s confronting and the help he needs so badly …
I turned chicken. I threw in the towel after one crummy phone call.
Now I do know a bit about what addicts go through. Going cold turkey is rough. If it’s a friendship that you want to end, but your friend doesn’t, it’s painful knocking that monkey off your back. It clings to your sturdy shoulder … passionately, and quite mercilessly.

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Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter arrested at Orange County Courthouse for handing out jury nullification flyers.

Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter, handing out jury nullification flyers last January in front of the Orange County Courthouse, just before Judge Belvin Perry issued an administrative order banning him from doing that. (Photo by Michael Freeman.)

ORLANDO – Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter was arrested today for handing out jury nullification flyers to prospective jurors in front of the Orange County Courthouse.
Although Schmidter has been handing out the flyers since last September, there has been an administrative order in place since Jan. 31 banning the practice. Until today, though, the order has never been enforced.
Susan Soto, public information officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed that Schmidter was arrested this morning by sheriff’s deputies, but referred all questions about the arrest to the Orange County Courthouse. Karen Levey, spokesman for the courthouse, said Schmidter was arrested and arraigned this afternoon in the court of Chief Judge Belvin Perry.
“Judge Perry had his (Schmidter’s) arraignment today at 1:30, and he was released on a $2,500 bond,” Levey said. “He was charged with indirect criminal contempt.”
Schmidter was then transported to the Orange County jail, Levey said. Schmidter, 64, was booked into the jail at 4:10 p.m. Continue reading

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