ORLANDO – Julian Heicklen came to Orlando for “Protest Week,” to feed the homeless at Lake Eola, even though that was in violation of a city ordinance, and to hand out political flyers in front of the Orange County Courthouse, even though that was in violation of a judge’s administrative order.
Heicklen considered it a form of civil disobedience and said he didn’t care if he ended up getting arrested. In fact, he said he was prepared to be arrested.
And today, he was.
Heicklen, 79, of Teaneck, N.J, is now in the Orange County jail, having been charged with contempt of court. His arrest comes just a month after another Libertarian activist, Mark Schmidter of Orlando, got arrested on a similar contempt of court charge, for handing out political flyers to prospective jurors in front of the Orange County Courthouse.
The irony is that both Heicklen and Schmidter had been distributing those flyers for months, in defiance of a judge’s administrative order, without any legal repercussions — until Schmidter got arrested on June 29, at the height of the media frenzy at the courthouse over the prolonged Casey Anthony trial.
It was Chief Judge Belvin Perry, the man who presided over the Anthony trial, who also issued the administrative order back in January banning anyone from giving material to prospective jurors, which the judge called a form of jury tampering.
Schmidter had been handing out the flyers since last September, urging jurors to consider their right to engage in jury nullification. That’s when jurors find a defendant not guilty, regardless of what the evidence shows, because they don’t like the law that person is being charged with. The flyers are drawn up and distributed up a Montana-based organization called the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA. Schmidter supported their cause.
Judge Perry handed down his administrative order on Jan. 31, and Schmidter stopped distributing the flyers, even though he considered the judge’s actions to be a violation of his free speech rights.
When Heicklen, a practitioner of civil disobedience dating back to the 1940s, heard about it, he came to Florida last March to hand out the flyers and defy the judge’s order. He did so, on numerous occasions, without getting arrested.
In an interview with Freeline Media on March 17, Heicklen said “I found when I wanted to get arrested, it’s not easy. The truth is I didn’t want to get arrested here, but I suspected I would get arrested.”
But until today, he avoided that fate.
Schmidter eventually joined him in handing out the flyers at the courthouse, and never got arrested either – until late June. Judge Perry later found Schmidter guilty of indirect civil contempt, a third degree felony, and sentenced him to five months in jail. Schmidter is now out on bond, pending an appeal of the judge’s ruling.
Heicklen came back to this city last week for Orlando Protest Week. Heicklen was at Lake Eola last Wednesday, feeding the poor and homeless through the Orlando Food Not Bombs organization, and then he went back there today to do the same thing. Heicklen did so in defiance of the city’s ban on large-group feedings in downtown parks. That law was unanimously backed by a federal appeals court in April.
Heicklen had also planned to return to the Orange County Courthouse to hand out the political flyers to prospective jurors – again, in defiance of Judge Perry’s order. In an interview with this magazine last spring, Heicklen said he wasn’t afraid to get arrested.
“I’m immune from punishment,” he said. “They can’t destroy my future – I don’t have one. They can’t destroy my job — I don’t have one. They can’t take away my home — I don’t own one.”
Heicklen is the author of the book The Non-Trials as lived by Julian Heicklen, which is available on Amazon.com by logging onto http://www.amazon.com/Non-Trials-lived-Julian-Heicklen. He’s also a retired Professor Emeritus at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.
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