I honestly don’t know what else to conclude after reading this article than it must be a requirement to have next to zero intelligence to be a judge in Illinois. This is sort of a follow-up to the Christopher Drew case that I blogged about back in 2010 June. It involves a very similar abuse of the state’s wiretapping law.
AlterNet reports on the plight of 41-year-old Michael Allison of Bridgeport, Illinois. His crime was keeping non-working cars on his mother’s property in the nearby town of Robinson. Both cities have “eyesore” laws requiring inoperable cars to either be registered or kept in a garage. The nasty part of this is that in Illinois, registered vehicle owners can be randomly selected for liability insurance verification questionnaire mailouts, and a failure to respond to such a questionnaire results in the suspension of the registration. (In Texas, by contrast, one only needs to show proof of insurance at the time of registration and–since Texas requires it as well–annual safety inspection. Though it is technically frowned upon, in Texas one can get insurance, renew registration and/or bring the inspection current, then immediately cancel the policy.)
Anyway, Michael sued the city of Bridgeport in 2007 claiming the “eyesore” law was a violation of his civil rights and the city’s impound fees amounted to a cash grab. This resulted in local police harassment and threats of arrest over the next couple of years.
Fast forward to 2010 January. Michael requests a court reporter for his hearing and is denied. In the letter he made it clear that he would be recording the proceedings himself were his request denied–an understandable action from a citizen who feels he is being wronged by the system and merely wants to document himself for his own protection.
Quoting the story, here’s what happens next:
Just after he walked through the courthouse door the next day, Allison says Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Kimbara Harrell asked him whether he had a tape recorder in his pocket. He said yes. Harrell then asked him if it was turned on. Allison said it was. Harrell then informed the defendant that he was in violation of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it a Class 1 felony to record someone without his consent. “You violated my right to privacy,” the judge said.
Allison responded that he had no idea it was illegal to record public officials during the course of their work, that there was no sign or notice barring tape recorders in the courtroom, and that he brought one only because his request for a court reporter had been denied. No matter: After Harrell found him guilty of violating the car ordinance, Allison, who had no prior criminal record, was hit with five counts of wiretapping, each punishable by four to 15 years in prison. Harrell threw him in jail, setting bail at $35,000.
This is a blatant attempt at intimidation which the entire citizenship of Illinois should be ashamed of. I don’t know where Mr. Harrell (a man I believe unworthy of the title of “Judge” or “The Honorable”) gets off claiming he has some kind of privacy rights in a public courtroom, especially after Michael asked for a court reporter.
I’m not sure how Mr. Harrell became a judge. But I do know lawyers and judges are supposed to uphold the concept of equal justice for all. This abuse of a poorly written wiretapping law flies in the face of anything resembling justice.
Indeed, the story also refers to Carlos Miller’s excellent blog, Photography Is Not A Crime, which he started after being arrested on trumped-up charges for exercising his legal right to photograph police officers in a public place. I can’t blog about every one of them, but the media is full of stories about police abusing their power. Intimidating citizens into giving up their rights is wrong, and is the hallmark of a police state run amok.
I refuse to quietly let the USA become a police state. A lack of resistance and public outrage in cases of clear official intimidation and harassment such as Christopher Drew’s and Michael Allison’s is all it takes for us to quietly slip into such a police state. If you are in Illinois, please make your objections known to your elected officials and the local news media. I would love to do a follow-up post about protests related to either of these two cases, or similar cases involving the abuse of this absolute garbage they call a wiretapping law in Illinois.
For residents of the other 49 states, I quote Thomas Jefferson: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” In this case, it’s keeping up with proposed legislation, and voicing emphatic and angry (but polite) objection to your state passing laws or amending existing laws similar to those laws currently on the books and being abused in Illinois.
Together, we can stop the police state. Enough is enough.