ORLANDO – He’s back in Orlando, and prepared to get arrested. Only, Julian Heicklen has no expectation that he actually will get placed into the Orange County Jail. In fact, he’s convinced that he won’t.
And Heicklen considers that a big victory, particularly over Chief Justice Belvin Perry Jr.
“The emperor has no clothes,” Heicklen said.
Heicklen, a libertarian activist who has been engaging in civil disoedience since the 1940s, arrived in Orlando this afternoon. He plans to visit the Orange County Courthouse on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. and again at noon to hand out flyers to jurors – in violation of an administrative order issued in January by Perry.
But unlike the last time Heicklen was in the city in March, when he thought there was a realistic chance that he would get arrested if he handed out the flyers, Heicklen no longer thinks it’s likely to happen.
“The judge knows he can’t do anything about this,” Heicklen said. “This is a scam. But it works. It keeps people away.”
Mark Schmidter, the Orlando small business owner and Libertarian activist who has hosted Heicklen when he visits the city, said “I’m beginning to believe him. We think all this is a scare tactice because they know it’s unconstitutional.”
Last January, Perry issued an administrative order 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 past 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. Heicklen, who lives in New Jersey, offered to come by the courthouse and hand out the flyers – to engage in civil disobedience leading to his arrest for violating Perry’s order. But when he appeared in front of the courthouse in March, he didn’t get arrested.
Heicklen, who came to Florida this week to attend a Libertarian Party convention in West Palm Beach, said he was happy to return to Orlando to try another round of civil disobedience.
“Orlando is special because the judge put out the orders, and I defied it,” he said. “I was there three times. I didn’t know if I was going to get arrested or not. But I didn’t. I was prepared to be arrested.”
Heicklen had one encounter with a court officer – and it was anti-climatic, he said.
“The officer said ‘You’ve probably seen this,’ and he handed me a copy of the (administrative) order, and then I never saw him again,” he said.
Heicklen thinks that happened because he was surrounded by the local media, and the court didn’t want the publicity of having an activist arrested in front of the courthouse. So they ignored him, he said.
“The police never bothered me,” he said. “I always thought that was because the press was all around me. In Orlando, they didn’t even make any effort.”
After he left the city in March, Heicklen said he went to Los Angeles to engage in civil disobedience in front of the city courthouse, in defiance of a judge’s administrative order. But this time he did get arrested – or was about to, until a court employee came out and told the officers they had no authority to arrest him since he wasn’t violating the law, but an administrative order issued by a judge. This would be a matter between Heicklen and the judge, the court employee said.
So Heicklen asked to see the judge. He was turned down.
And that’s when he realised the entire process is a sham, Heicklen said.
If an administrative order in unenforceable, he said, then “The judges know their best hope is to drag this on forever. I have no expectations at all of being approached tomorrow, much less being arrested. The point is if the judge can get away with it, he gets away with it. Tomorrow I will be absolutely surprised if a guard says ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’ or anything more than ‘Don’t block the door.’ They can’t tell you that you can’t hand out literature on public thoroughfares.”
If that’s the case, Schmidter said, he plans to be back in front of the courthouse on Monday mornings, handing out the FIJA flyers once again.
“It looks like we’re getting a green light to keep doing this,” Schmidter said, adding that Perry’s order was clearly unconstitutional – and arrogant.
“It’s like we’re back with King George,” Schmidter said. “They get to do whatever they want to do.”
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