ORLANDO – Last year, Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter was arrested for, among other things, not standing in the Free Speech Zone in front of the Orange County Courthouse as he handed out flyers to prospective jurors.
On Tuesday, Schmidter and his attorney, Adam Sudbury of Orlando, were back in front of the Orange County Courthouse, this time inside the free speech Zone, to announce that they were formally filing a lawsuit against the judge who sentenced Schmidter to five months in the Orange County jail, making him a convicted felon, on a contempt of court charge.
The lawsuit, Schmidter said, was also being filed on behalf of Julian Heiklen, a civil libertarian protestor from New Jersey who also got arrested on the same contempt charges last summer, and who has since left this country to move to Israel.
“We are filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida and Chief Judge Belvin Perry for first amendment violations and abuse of power,” Schmidter said. “I and Julian Heiklen were sentenced to 151 days and 146 days for violating Belvin Perry’s administrative orders. One year ago Julian and I were convicted by Belvin Perry for ‘Indirect Criminal Contempt of Court,’ even though we were never in the courthouse and we did not interfere with the Casey Anthony trial.”
Those two arrests were made as Perry, the chief justice of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida — which covers Orange and Osceola counties — was presiding over the high profile Casey Anthony first degree murder trial.
Schmidter spent four days in jail last summer, before he got released on bond pending an appeal. He was arrested in front of the Orange County Courthouse, charged with violating the judge’s administrative order prohibiting anyone from distributing flyers to prospective jurors heading into the building for jury duty.
An Orlando roofing contractor, Schmidter had gotten involved with a group called FIJA, or the Fully Informed Jury Association, which educates jurors on their right to jury nullification. That’s when jurors vote to acquit a defendant if they think the law that person is being charged with shouldn’t be on the books.
Schmidter said he liked FIJA’s cause because he believes the United States and Florida have far too many unnecessary laws on the books, and he’d like to see a lot of them removed. For months, he distributed FIJA’s material to prospective jurors heading into the Orange County Courthouse. He stopped when Judge Perry issued an administrative order banning anyone from handing material to jurors, calling it a form of jury tampering.
Schmidter eventually returned to the courthouse, and for months in the spring of 2011, was able to distribute the flyers without being taken into custody.
Then in the summer, as Perry was presiding over the Anthony murder trial, the judge established a free speech zone in front of the courthouse for protestors or political activists. Schmidter was arrested for handing out the flyers outside of the free speech zone, and Perry later convicted him of contempt of court.
Schmidter decided to return to the free speech zone today to announce the lawsuit being filed against Perry, who is up for re-election this year and will go before voters on Aug. 14, the date of Florida’s state primary. Former Orange County Judge Daniel Perry, who is not related to the incumbent, is challenging Belvin Perry in next month’s non-partisan judicial election.
The lawsuit filed today calls for “legal and equitable relief” for the two plaintiffs. It calls the judge’s administrative order “an unconstitutional exercise of state power, inasmuch as it unconstitutionally abridges or restricts the plaintiffs’ free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” while also calling the order “unconstitutionally vague, overbroad, and otherwise violates the procedural or substantive due process rights of the plaintiffs.”
The same concept applies to the free speech zone that the judge put into effect, the lawsuit claims, calling the “public speech order” a similarly unconstitutional abuse of power.
“The plaintiffs demand judgment declaring the public speech order void and without effect under the law,” the lawsuit states.
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