ORLANDO — The message went out to Facebook, about a trip to a local restaurant that the person sending the update, Mark Schmidter, wanted everyone to know about.
“Julian & I going 2 Outback now that he is out of jail! He wants a steak!” Schmidter wrote. But as it turns out, they stopped somewhere else first.
“I picked him up, and I said, ‘Ok, Julian, where do you want to go first,’ and he said, ‘I want a chocolate milkshake,’ ” Schmidter said. “So first we went to McDonald’s.”
Heicklen, 79, is about to leave Orlando for his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, where he plans to go from being an inmate at the Orange County jail to a politican candidate running for the New Jersey State Assembly.
“I’ve got to get back and start campaigning,” Heicklen said.
Schmidter, meantime, is going back to his roofing contracting business, and he spent today working on a job at the Cirtus Tower in Clermont.
Schmidter and Heicklen are both Libertarian activists who have paid a stiff legal price for their activism: jail sentences here in Orange County, where Schmidter lives.
On Monday, Heicklen was released on $12,000 bond, pending appeal of his conviction on contempt of court charges. He got out of jail early Tuesday morning, and is now staying with Schmidter — who also is out on bond for the same charge.
Heicklen said the bail was high for a couple of reasons.
“I’m a risk for two reasons,” he said. “First, I’m from out of state and second, I never show up for my court appointments. At least the judge didn’t require that I have to stay in the state.”
Their crime was handing out political flyers to prospective jurors at the Orange County Courthouse. The two men did it in violation of a judge’s administrative order that giving political material to jurors amounted to a form of jury tampering.
Schmidter and Heicklen got to know one another through their activism with the Fully Informed Jurors Association, a Montana-based organization that believes the United States has too many unnecessary laws. FIJA advocates jury nullification, or encouraging jurors to acquit a defendant, even if the state has been able to prove their guilt, if they dislike the law that person is being charged with.
Schmidter began distributing FIJA’s flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse exactly a year ago, but stopped when Belvin Perry, the chief judge of the Orange and Osceola County courts, issued an administrative order banning the practice. The judge also established a small “free speech zone” in front of the courthouse for future political activism, limiting the distribution of political material to pedestrians walking past the zone.
Heicklen heard about the order and felt it was a violation of Schmidter’s free speech rights, so he came to Orlando last March to defy the judge’s order. Both men handed out the flyers numerous times without being arrested, but that ended late in June when Schmidter was charged with violating the judge’s order and for handing out the flyers outside the free speech zone. Judge Perry found him guilty of contempt of court, a third degree felony, and gave him 151 days in jail. He was released on bail a few days later.
Heicklen came back to Orlando in July, returned to the courthouse to hand out the flyers, and also got arrested. On Sept. 1, Judge Perry found him guilty of contempt of court, and gave him the 145 day jail sentence.
Heicklen went back before Judge Perry on Monday to request that he get released on bail as he appeals the judge’s verdict. Both men are now planning for a lengthy appeals process, knowing that if they lose, they have to return to the Orange County jail to complete their jail sentences.
Schmidter said his attorney, Adam Sudbury, plans to appeal both their convictions on free speech grounds — that the administrative order violated their First Amendment right to give materials to people walking on public property by the courthouse.
“Sudbury is running this thing, and he has to go to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, and then after that it goes to the state Supreme Court,” Schmidter said. “It’s going to go to a number of steps, and we expect to take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
In the meantime, Schmidter said he and Heicklen are unlikely to return to the Orange County Courthouse with FIJA flyers to hand out, since they don’t plan to tempt fate once again.
“I don’t think Perry will have any mercy on us if I did that,” Schmidter said.
Schmidter left open the possibility of taking the FIJA flyers to a neighboring county courthouse where Perry’s administrative order is not in effect. Perry presides over the Orange and Osceola county courthouses.
“We might go to Seminole County Courthouse, I don’t know,” Schmidter said. “The problem is the way you have the biggest effect is Orange County, because we have so many big cases here.”
Schmidter was arrested in the middle of the high profile Casey Anthony murder trial, which Perry presided over as judge, and now the courthouse is once again getting national media coverage for the murder trial of Bob Ward, who is charged with killing his wife in their Isleworth mansion.
But they do plan to stay active, mostly likely with Libertarian groups — including Tyranny Fighters.
Heicklen is the head of this organization, which has more than 900 members and aims to overturn federal, state and local laws that he finds oppressive. Those include gun control laws, measures that ban medical marijuana use, and, locally, an Orlando ordinance that bans people from feeding the homeless in city parks. During Heicklen’s time in jail, Schmidter noted, “He signed up 18 more Tyranny Fighters, including a corrections officer.”
“I got 18 that said they would join,” Heicklen said. “Half of them, I actually have their email addresses. It was a great recruiting tool.”
Heicklen’s time in jail prompted a huge outpouring of support from fellow activists.
“I’ve started going through 4,000 emails I got,” Heicklen said. “I got a letter from Tokyo. This has gone world wide.”
That’s one reason, Heicklen said, why he wouldn’t abandon his political activists and civil disobedience, regardless of what the courts do.
“I love this stuff,” he said.
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