ORLANDO – When Mark Schmidter got arrested last month and sent to jail, he suddenly discovered a higher calling.
And that calling was to the justices at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schmidter, the roofing contractor turned Libertarian activist, said he plans to take the appeal of his conviction on contempt of court charges all the way to the Supreme Court, and he’s calling on other Libertarians to help him raise the money needed to pay for an appeal to the nation’s highest court.
“My appeal is waiting to be filed,” Schmidter said. “I’m trying to find some money to do it.”
Schmidter was arrested on June 29 in front of the Orange County Courthouse. He was handing out political flyers to prospective jurors, informing them of their right to jury nullification. That’s when jurors vote to acquit a defendant because they don’t like the law that person is being charged with.
Schmidter’s actions were in violation of an administrative order by the chief judge of the Orange County Courthouse, Belvin Perry, who had banned the practice in January. Although Schmidter distributed the flyers for weeks, in defiance of the administrative order, it wasn’t until late June that he finally got arrested.
Perry found Schmidter guilty of indirect criminal contempt, a third degree felony, and sentenced him to five months in jail. A few days later, Schmidter was granted bail, and released from the Orange County jail. Now he’s planning for a lengthy appeal, one that goes all the way to Washington D.C.
“Even though people have been giving me donations — $100 here, $100 there — now we’ve got to get at least $1,500 to get the appeal started,” Schmidter said. “Taking it through the appeals courts will cost $5,000, and then I want to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court. I’m a patriot here. We’re losing the Constitution. But we have to go through the appeals courts first.”
Schmidter plans to argue that the judge’s order violated his free speech rights. Schmidter said he expects the cost of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to be around $10,000 – “which isn’t all that bad,” he said. “I thought it would be more like $50,000.”
Because he needs to earn more money to help cover his legal bills, Schmidter just accepted a roofing contract for a short term job in California. Ironically, because of that, he’s going to miss Orlando Protest Week, which starts next Wednesday and will be initiated by his friend Julian P. Heicklen, a longtime Libertarian activist who lives in New Jersey. Heicklen is coming to Orlando to feed the homeless at Lake Eola Park – in violation of a ban on that practice by the Orlando City Council – and to distribute the jury nullification flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse.
Although he’ll be staying at Schmidter’s apartment, Schimidter will be on the west coast and will miss all the action.
“The unfortunate part is I’m going to be out of town on a California roofing job,” Schmidter said. “Julian is going to do it. I wish I could be there to help him, but I have to go make a buck.”
Heicklen’s trip is all about civil disobedience.
Heicklen will be at Lake Eola on Wednesday, Aug. 17, from 6-7 p.m., feeding the poor and homeless through the Orlando Food Not Bombs organization. He’ll be back there on Monday, Aug. 22 from 8-9 a.m. to do the same thing.
In doing so, Heicklen will be defying the city’s ban on large-group feedings in downtown parks. The law was unanimously backed by a federal appeals court in April.
Schmidter said this law is another example of government overreach, needlessly restricting people’s rights.
“The whole issue isn’t so much it’s being done at Lake Eola,” he said. “The idea is a true libertarian type of thought, that you let charity take care of these things, rather than the government, and you don’t hinder people doing good things for their fellow man. “
He noted that the meals that Orlando Food Not Bombs distributes to the homeless is donated by local restaurants that would otherwise throw it away.
“These restaurants have to serve basically perfectly fresh items to their customers,” Schmidter said. “The Food Not Bombs people pick it up and go feed the homeless the next day. It doesn’t cost the city a dime to do this. And instead of that food being thrown out, it goes right into people’s stomach. Let’s not hinder charity.”
During his week of civil disobedience, Heicklen will also be handing out the jury nullification flyers to prospective jurors at Orange County Courthouse, just as Schmidter did. In fact, Heicklen has been in the city handing out the flyers there many times, and never gotten arrested. Schmidter doesn’t think he’ll get arrested on Thursday, Aug. 18, either, when Heicklen will be at the court house from 7:30-9 a.m., and then again from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“I doubt they will arrest him,” Schmidter said. “But he wants some exposure on this. To arrest an 80 year old man after arresting me … I don’t think they’re going to do that.”
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