ORLANDO – A judge has issued an administrative order preventing Mark Schmidter, an activist for juror’s rights, from handing out flyers on the grounds of the Orange County Courthouse.
“I’m in depression about it,” Schmidter said, one day after learning that Belvin Perry Jr., chief judge of the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, had signed the order blocking Schmidter from distributing flyers from FIJA, or the Fully Informed Jury Association, based in Helena, Montana.
“It’s my First Amendment rights taken out,” said Schmidter, who has been distributing the flyers to prospective jurors on the steps of the courthouse in downtown Orlando since last September.
FIJA encourages jurors to engage in jury nullification – if they disagree with a law they think shouldn’t be enforced, they can vote to acquit the person being prosecuted. As the flyer notes, “FIJA believes that ‘liberty and justice for all’ won’t return to America until citizens are again fully informed of – and using – their powers as jurors.”
Schmidter said he wasn’t actually served the injunction, but found out about it and looked it up online. He now believes if he goes back to the courthouse with the written material, he faces the risk of being arrested and jailed.
“It’s never been served on me,” he said, adding that he learned of the order through a FIJA member in Montana.
“She gave it to their lawyers and they’re figuring out right now what’s our next step,” Schmidter said. “I’m not going back there until we straighten out these things, since I can’t afford a lawyer or being incarcerated. They (FIJA) have dealt with this dozens of times before all around the country. They told me not to go back down there until they analyze it. They suggested I wait a little bit so they can formulate our next move.”
In a lengthy administrative order signed by Perry on Jan. 31 and listed as an order “governing expressive conduct toward summoned jurors,” the judge wrote that the order was directed against “the dissemination of leaflets and other materials containing written information tending to influence summoned jurors as they enter the courthouse.”
The judge wrote that distributing flyers to prospective jurors violated Florida statute 918.12, which deals with tampering with jurors and states, “Any person who influences the judgment or decision of any grand or petit juror on any matter, question, cause, or proceeding which may be pending, or which may by law be brought, before him or her as such juror, with intent to obstruct the administration of justice, shall be guilty of a felony in the third degree.”
The administrative order does not apply specifically to Schmidter, but to anyone distributing written material to jurors on Orange County Courthouse grounds. It noted that a Ninth Judicial Circuit Court judge recently decided that a jury panel had been tampered with because they were “in possession of leaflets containing information attempting to influence the jury. Such occurrences severely impact the court’s ability to conduct the efficient, prompt, and proper administration of justice.”
Preventing jurors from being influenced, the order concluded, was “necessary to serve the State’s compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the jury system.”
As a result, Perry ordered that handing out leaflets and other materials to people being summoned for jury duty would be “prohibited on the Orange County Courthouse complex grounds.”
The term “courthouse complex” was defined as the Orange County Courthouse building and the adjacent courthouse parking garage, courtyard, “and all other grounds surrounding the courthouse.”
Public sidewalks were excluded from the definition.
“Anyone engaging in the type of expressive conduct as contemplated by this Order may be in violation of section 918.12, Florida Statutes, and/or may be found in contempt of court,” the order states. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, or any other law enforcement agency, shall give a copy of this Order and advise anyone who is within the courthouse complex grounds … law enforcement shall instruct anyone violating the provisions of this Order to cease and desist immediately.”
On the FIJA association’s web site, www.fija.org, member James Cox called Perry’s order “an intimidation tactic by a bully issued under color of law to circumvent the First, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments to the United States Constitution. While it may be more convenient for the court to have a jury that is easily steered by orders from the bench and selective filtering of the information it is permitted access to, it is not the purpose of a jury merely to rubber stamp the decision it is led to by the government. Were this the case, a jury would not be needed at all.”
Schmidter said he’s stunned that he no longer has a right to hand out flyers in front of the courthouse.
“Especially this material we were handing out,” he said. “It’s not like we were soliciting for a condominium sale or advertising for a lawyer. It doesn’t even pertain to any particulars of any court case. In other words, we’re not talking about any case that the jury is susceptible to hearing.
“The thing is, we’re just losing our First Amendment rights, that’s what this is about,” he added. “I’m just stunned that they have the audacity to trash the constitution.”
Schmidter said he would wait to hear back from attorneys working with FIJA, and in the meantime, is considering ways to work around the order.
“I thought about going up to Seminole County Courthouse,” he said. “I really believe in this crusade more than anything else I’ve ever done.”
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