With a not very subtle warning, a Brooklyn Housing Court judge has ordered a “sovereign citizen” to pay his debts with real money, and suggested that retaliatory shenanigans against the court will spark a sharp reaction from the bench.
Judge Marc Finkelstein (See Profile), in a decision last week, traced the origin and tactics of an apparently growing group of gadflies who view themselves as beyond the realm of government, attempt to settle their debts with fictitious and worthless money orders, and sometimes harass unsympathetic judges by “filing retaliatory fraudulent and bogus property liens and tax forms that are designed to ruin the officials’ credit rating and cause them to be audited by the IRS.”
Finkelstein said in a footnote that “at least one Housing Court Judge has experienced such a bogus property lien,” but did not name the judge and declined to identify the judge in an interview. He noted that some “sovereign citizens” have been held in contempt and convicted of obstruction of justice.
Finkelstein’s decision in 2720 Realty v. Jason Robert Williams, L&T 077392/12, spotlights what is seemingly an increasing concern of the judiciary over the sovereign citizen movements.
The self-proclaimed sovereigns consider themselves bound only by common law, not statutes, and do not recognize U.S. currency as legitimate because it is not backed by gold or silver.
Some of the adherents have proven violent while others, according to a 2010 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, are “just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges.” The report estimates that there are about 100,000 hard-core members of the “bizarre subculture” and another 200,000 on the fringes.
2720 Realty v. Jason Robert Williams is a nonpayment-of-rent case in which a default judgment was entered against the tenant for $7,655. Williams, who is apparently represented by a brother who goes by the name of “Julian Kevin: Williams,” sought to vacate the default judgment on the grounds that the creditor refused to honor and credit a “lawful Bill of Exchange,” which amounted to a realistic-looking but worthless money order.
Records show that when 2720 Realty deposited the bogus instrument in its account at HSBC, it was returned uncashed and stamped “fraud.”
Finkelstein, drawing from a number of sources and other decisions, explained that the sovereigns adhere to what they call a “redemption theory,” based on the premise that when the federal government abandoned the gold standard in 1933 it secretly pledged the physical bodies of its citizens as collateral to borrow money.
The theory holds that the government created a fictitious or “straw man” entity for each citizen and set up secret trust accounts through birth certificates and Social Security cards.
“By filing certain, complex, legal-sounding documents, followers of this theory believe they can ‘redeem’ their birth certificates— i.e., tap into their secret Treasury account for their own purposes,” Finkelstein said. “Under this theory, they can create money orders and sign drafts drawn on their Treasury Direct Accounts to pay for goods and services.”
Finkelstein quoted from decisions characterizing the redemption theory as “implausible,” “clearly nonsense,” “convoluted,” “peculiar,” “without merit,” “equal parts revisionist legal history and conspiracy theory” and “nonsensical.”
The judge said he could find no case where “adherents of the sovereign citizen ideology have [ever] prevailed in their attempt to satisfy legitimate debts” with their fictitious money orders, and said Julian Kevin: Williams “will not prevail in this matter.”
Jacob Gelfand, an attorney in Brooklyn who represents 2720 Realty, said the decision serves to alert the judiciary and legal community to the sovereign citizen movement and philosophy. There have been numerous cases in the past few months in which the sovereign citizen theory has been advanced in housing and other courts, according to a court official who declined to be identified out of concern for retaliation.
“It is obvious the judge wrote the decision because he wants everyone to be aware of this,” Gelfand said. “He has researched the issue and was in a position to write something definite and clear so in the future others can draw on his knowledge. He could have just said ‘motion denied’ but he obviously wanted to write something that would be helpful.”
Justin Kevin: Williams could not be located for comment.
@|John Caher can be contacted at email@example.com.