ORLANDO — A libertarian activist will spent nearly five months in the Orange County jail now that Chief Judge Belvin Perry has found him guilty of “indirect criminal contempt” for hanging out political flyers during the Casey Anthony trial.
Mark Edward Schmidter, 64, had been arrested on June 29, as Perry was presiding over the Anthony trial. A free speech zone had been set up in front of the Orange County Courthouse, and protestors were required to stay within the lines of that zone.
Schmidter was arrested for distributing leaflets in front of the courthouse, outside the free speech zone, about jury nullification. He appeared before Judge Perry this morning, and the judge rejected the free speech argument and found Schmidter in contempt of court. Schmidter was given 141 days in the 33 Street jail for violating the judge’s administrative order against the jury pamphlets, and 151 days for stepping out of the free speech zone.
Schmidter was also given a $250 fine for each violation.
He was booked in the Orange County jail at 12:46 p.m. today, to immediately begin serving his sentence. He was placed in protective custody.
The charge is a third degree felony, so Schmidter is now a convicted felon — for handing out political flyers on public, taxpayer-funded property.
Schmidter had been handing out the jury nullification flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse on and off since last September, nearly a year ago. On Jan. 29, 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 that a defendant is being charged with.
But while Schmidter returned to the Orange County Courthouse numerous times in the spring, violating the administrative order, he didn’t get arrested until June 29.
Schmidter has argued that the administrative order violated his free speech rights, and also said it amounted to selective enforcement, since the sheriff’s office had repeated failed to enforce the judge’s administrative order until the high profile, highly publicized Casey Anthony trail got underway.
“If you have a law, it has to be equally distributed,” Schmidter said. “You can’t pick and choose who it applies to. You’ve got to bust all of them — or none of them.”
He was booked in the Orange County jail that night, but was released early the next morning on bond.
The judge also imposed a no-trespassing order on Schmidter at the courthouse until his hearing this morning.
Judge Perry had issued his administrative order at the beginning of the year, 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 prospective jurors to engage in jury nullification — or voting to acquit someone of a crime even when the evidence strongly indicates that 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, a roofing contractor, has been involved in Libertarian political causes for the past few years. He had endorsed FIJA’s 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.
“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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