ORLANDO – It used to be that Mark Schmidter spent a lot of time at Orange County Courthouse.
More recently, he’s been going to Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford – that is, when he’s not spending his lunch hour at the Wall Street Cantina in downtown Orlando.
Schmidter, though, isn’t a lawyer, and he’s not a regular at the restaurants on Wall Street Plaza. Schmidter is on a mission to promote a Libertarian message about the rights of jurors – only, he’s having an increasingly difficult time getting the word out.
At the moment, anyway.
“This thing is snowballing,” Schmidter said.
Schmidter is a local Libertarian activist and supporter of FIJA, or the Fully Informed Jury Association. Based in Helena, Montana, FIJA encourages jurors to engage in jury nullification, or voting to acquit the person being prosecuted if they dislike the law the defendant is being charged with.
To help promote this cause, Schmidter had been distributing FIJA’s flyers at the Orange County Courthouse between September and Jan. 31. On that day, an administrative order was issued by Judge Belvin Perry Jr., chief judge of the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, blocking anyone from distributing flyers from FIJA, on the grounds that it amounted to jury tampering.
Since then, Schmidter said that on the advice of FIJA’s attorneys, he’s refrained from handing out the flyers at the Orange County Courthouse.
“The issue here is FIJA doesn’t want anybody getting arrested,” Schmidter said. “They want people to keep handing out flyers, and if some people get arrested, it would discourage other people around the country from doing this.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s going away quietly.
“The judge’s administrative order says he’s going to get anyone for contempt of court and jury tampering,” he said. “Nobody can figure that one out. We’re not talking to jurors, we’re just handing them flyers as they walk out of the parking garage. We haven’t figured out how he can enforce that.”
Schmidter has continued to take his message to people in downtown Orlando, though not specifically to jurors.
“That’s where we’re going now, the Wall Street Cantina,” Schmidter said. “I hand out the same yellow flyer, but it has a white insert in it that says ‘We don’t want to break the law and we want to obey the judge’s orders, even though we can’t figure them out.’ “
But without the flyers getting directly into the hands of jurors, “I don’t think it’s having an impact, myself,” he said.
Schmidter has also gone to the Seminole County Courthouse to distribute the flyers directly to jurors, and on Monday will visit the Volusia County Courthouse in Deland to do the same thing.
“I have to hand them out to everybody so they can’t say we’re pinpointing jurors, but I do want to go someplace where there are jurors,” he said. “The employees at the courthouse know everything about us already. The jurors coming in, they don’t have any clue about what’s going on.”
The campaign might shift into high gear next week. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an appeal of Judge Perry’s order in the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, asking the appeals court to quash the judge’s administrative order.
“The American Civil Liberties Union came into it and said ‘Yes, this is a no brainer, we’ll handle this one,’ “ Schmidter said. “Two days ago they filed a challenge to Judge Perry’s order.” It was filed by ACLU attorneys Randall Marshall, Lawrence G. Walters, and Maria Kayanan.
This issue was also the focus on a report by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano on Fox Business News, and next week, Libertarian activist Julian Heicklen of Pennsylvania will come to Orlando to engage in civil disobedience at the Orange County Courthouse, essentially defying the judge’s order.
“Julian Heicklen wants to come down here and get arrested on March 11 because he says that’s the only way this will get to the front burner, so the judge has to arrest him,” Schmidter said. “That’s where it stands now – FIJA doesn’t want us to do anything, and Julian is coming here to get arrested.”
The local Libertarian group Campaign for Liberty is expected to discuss this issue on Thursday, March 11 when they hold their monthly meeting at Legends Sports Bar in Orlando.
“I think this will be the main topic,” Schmidter said. “But they’re of the opinion — all of them except me, I’m the only one, really – that we need to go ahead and wait and work this thing out through the courts. My argument is we need to keep getting our message out.”
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