- Posted February 22, 2014 by
No First Or Fifth Amendment Rights In Lawless County, Texas?
Official oppression is office policy in the 220th Judicial District Court of Hamilton County, Texas which, perhaps, might better be described as Lawless County.
Faced with possible eviction from their ministerial home and office over unpaid property taxes, a poor Internet publishing preacher and his family are attempting to appeal a "trial" denying them the rights to a jury and to hear a key witness without swearing or affirming an oath first.
That issue was decided in favor of the witness, minister Hank Scott, in a 2002 appeal to a higher court, a precedent that has been routinely ignored by the local courts of Hamilton County ever since.
In the attempt to appeal a rushed hearing in which this right to religious liberty was once again trampled by district judge George Philip Robertson, the Scotts have been met with stiff opposition from district court clerks Leoma Larance and Sandy Rayhew.
With the inability to afford any legal assistance, and barely able to scrape together the fees for filing a civil appeal and to pay for the clerk's and reporter's records for that appeal, the Appellant, Anne Scott, has been denied a copy of the clerk's record in what appears to be a blatant attempt to scuttle her appeal.
Instead, clerks Larance and Rayhew have attempted to extort an additional $1 per page for a copy of the electronic file already paid for, produced and sent to the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco, without which the Appellant cannot prepare her appellate brief, or serve opposing counsel a copy of the record as required by the rules of court.
To cover their tracks, the district court clerks put a sign on their public office door stating: "Use of a recording device is not permitted in this office." Rayhew claims Hank Scott's use of a video recorder in the clerk's office "violates" their office policy, and her right to privacy.
Scott maintains video recording his interactions with the court clerks, who are public officials, is a protected right under the First Amendment's freedom of speech and freedom of the press clauses.
Four federal appellate districts (the First, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits) to date agree with Scott, ruling that under such circumstances the First Amendment protects the right to record audio and video without the consent of police or public officials, so long as this does not interfere with their duties of office.
This overrides any state or federal laws, much less "office policies" of recalcitrant court clerks, that would prohibit such recording.
Perhaps the court clerks of the 220th Judicial District court in Hamilton have reason to want to remain unaccountable for their actions.
To date, in relation to the Scott's battle to keep their ministerial home and office, Larance and Rayhew have demanded an additional $1 per page for a digital copy of a file already paid for and produced. Larance cited Texas Local Government Code 118.011 as her authority for demanding this fee.
Subchapter B of Title 4, Finances, deals solely with "Fees of County Clerk Other Than Court Fees," a statute that clearly has nothing to do with district court clerks, who are state and not county officials.
If the statute did apply, Section 118.024 specifies "Free Access To Records," mandating that: "This subchapter does not limit or deny any person full and free access to any document.... A person is entitled to read, examine, and copy from those documents or from any microfilm or other photographic image of the documents," and that: "A person may exercise the right provided by this section without paying any charge...."
Section 118.801 "Overcharging of Fees; Penalty" also stipulates any officer "who in bad faith, demands and receives a higher fee than authorized under this chapter or a fee that is not authorized under this chapter is liable to the aggrieved person for four times the amount unlawfully demanded and received," plus recovery of attorneys fees, interest, or costs of court.
In relation to attempts to prevent video recording, on February 7, 2014 Hank Scott faced possible arrest after he turned off his video recorder, left the clerk's office peaceably, and went about his business, when irate clerk Larance called the sheriff accusing Scott of "disturbing the peace" and "refusing to leave when asked."
When a deputy -- who stopped Scott on the street, after concluding his business with a local printer, on his way to the post office to mail court paperwork to the appellate court -- was offered to view the recording by Scott to prove he had stopped recording when asked, the deputy refused saying: "I'll believe them before I'd believe you."
County Attorney Mark Henkes, who apparently has been misadvising clerks Larance and Rayhew to use inapplicable statutes, has to date failed to enforce Section 39.03 of the Texas Penal Code, dealing with "Official oppression," which makes it a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for any public servant under color of his or her office to intentionally subject anyone to "mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful."
This includes intentionally denying or impeding someone "in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful...."
Clerks Larance and Rayhew may plead "ignorance" of the law, but as the courts like to tell defendants other than state actors: "ignorance of the law is no excuse."
If nothing else, the errant officers of the 220th Judicial District Court of Hamilton County, Texas certainly should know the rights to freedom of speech and of the press are also protected by Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas constitution, which mandates that: "no law shall ever be passed curtailing the liberty of speech or of the press."
The framers of the federal and state constitutions, were they still around to see how such protections are being trashed in the rural courts of Hamilton County, would rightly blanch at the shocking state of what today passes for the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law, otherwise known as "the due course of the law of the land" according to Article 1, Section 19 of the Texas constitution, in Lawless County, Texas.