Harlan L. Jacobsen April - 1997
WHAT RIGHTS DO YOU HAVE WHEN YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT RUNS ROUGH SHOD OVER YOU?
Most people think the constitution doesn't really have any affect on their personal liberty, that it is some overall thing that affects the well being of the country.
The definition of liberty is rights guaranteed the individual by law. The constitutional rights were basically designed by our forefathers to protect you from abuses by your government, including, of course, your local government.
So when the local Sioux Falls city, county or state government abuses your protected rights over your property or whatever constitutional "protected right" are abused, this does you little good if the government officials ignore these rights. They say "I am in charge here and the law here is whatever I say it is." You either have to accept their abuse of your rights or go to court. This will cost you probably 5 or 6 thousand dollars in legal fees to enforce your rights, which they know. So when you threaten to go to court, they are not impressed because they know hardly anybody can "afford" these kind of "protected rights."
Now, if you do spring for the $6 grand and go to court - about half the time (from my experience) the local court, after about 2 years, will side with the local government and confirm they are god here - whatever they say the law is, you'd better comply.
Now your choice is either accept the courts ruling that constitutional rights don't really apply to you or appeal it.
If you decide to appeal, you have to come up with another $6,000 in legal fees and no guarantees here. My experience is about 80% of the time the Appeals Court will uphold constitutional rights to the letter. About 20% of the time they will weasel around it. The federal appeals process takes about 6 years. (I have one in 7 years now and they still have not even had a hearing.)
So the price of enforcing your constitutional rights has risen to $12,000 and will take likely a total of 8 years to get relief, if then, if you have to go to a higher court.
Now these government officials, ignoring your rights, know that and often laugh out loud when you make claims of constitutional rights because they are so used to ignoring them, because in their experience no one has ever tried to enforce their rights.
So when I threaten to go to court, I show them the ruling I have gotten in 16 other similar cases. Well, some still ignore me, and I wind up having to go to court again.
My cases I do without an attorney and all involved First Amendment "free press" rights (the only laws I know). What you hear of in First Amendment rights cases is like Larry Flynt cases, what can you get away with saying and what they can or cannot censor.
That's not my type of First Amendment case. What I do are over the right to distribute your views (on the public sidewalk) without unnecessary governmental restrictions. Without distribution, what they or you can say means nothing, if no one can access it.
My view and efforts coincides with our forefathers that the free press is the key to liberty and when you burden it you limit all other liberty.
If your Sioux Falls or state government runs rough shod over your rights and your local newspaper exposes to the public what they are doing, they will likely stop, or better yet be restricted from doing it by knowing it very well might be publicized to the public by the local paper. So, the fact that the possibility of exposure is there in itself keeps them in line most of the time. When you restrict, hamper or suppress your local newspapers ability (financial or otherwise) from doing that function, well then, you are diminishing your own chances of not being governmentally abused.
SD has passed a law taxing newspaper which I am contesting. They have convicted me as a criminal, for refusing to pay the tax and refusing to go out of business. My sentencing comes up May 8th. After that, I can appeal the decision but, unfortunately, this time I am stuck in State Court where constitutional rights are not big.
The SD Attorney General's office said it was against SD law to use sidewalks at SD rest stops to distribute newspapers and that constitutional rights didn't apply in SD. It took about a year, but the Federal Court in Sioux Falls upheld our right to distribute in rest stops.
The Attorney General's office decided to appeal and after about another year and one hearing, the Appeals Court upheld our decision. This was amazingly fast.
So now the Attorney General's office is hot after me trying to put my newspaper out of business and throw me in jail for refusing to pay (the under $25 a month) sales tax. The bookkeeping to keep track of all the little individual towns, which each have an individual tax rate, amounts to something like $250.00 a month (ten times the tax). I pay it in no other state (we distribute in 9 states).
If I lose here and SD wins this court battle, within months I'll have to do the same thing in 8 other states. The bookkeeping alone would destroy the paper, so I have to take a stand and risk going to jail again.
What most people don't know, is you can represent yourself successfully. I spent over $20,000 in legal fees before I started doing my own suits, including arguing 8 in the U.S. Court of Appeals - 2 cases my hired attorneys lost, I got overturned (my way) in the U.S. Court of Appeals, without an attorney.
So what most people are not aware of is the ever rising cost of attorneys, which price 90% out of seeking enforcement of their rights. This means more and more governmental officials are running right over citizen's rights regularly and are never held to account. Those with deep pockets have rights because governmental officials know they can afford to hire legal expertise to enforce them. The poor, government officials ignore rights regularly, because they know they can not affort to do anything about it. More need to learn how to represent themselves and despite the fact, legislators are almost totally controlled by lawyers, rules do need to be changed to make it easier to do so.
Newpapers, not only in SD, but nationwide, are in rapid decline. Very few areas still have more than one newspaper that does editorial that is critical of government abuses. With circulaiton going down, many newspapers are cutting back on local news and merely report mostly national syndicated news that is already typeset and is cheaper than digging up local information and typesetting it.
So the watch dog becomes more and more anemic and governmental agencies run amuck over your rights and the trend will continue.
My crusade is to keep newspapers alive by enforcing rights to distribute, making distribution easier.
When state government burdens newspapers as SD has with the sales tax recently applied to newspaper distribution, I am alarmed, not only for its destroying my newspaper, but because it menas other papers are crimped financially so they will do less and less of what they should be doing in exposing governmental abuses.
Whether you realize it or not, this will locally, sooner or later, affect your personal liberties. That is why I say that any society that restricts, hampers or burdens the free press, shoot themselves in the foot. Without a strong watch dog watching over citizen's rights, governments always abuse citizens. It's just their very nature. Harlan L. Jacobsen
The writer has been publishing for over 30 years and has been involved in newsrack newspaper distribution as the primary distribution method for his publications for over 25 years. Currently distributing in 9 states, he has been jailed 3 times over First Amendment rights and has gone to Federal Court 16 times, the U.S. Court of Appeals 8 times, and has recently been convicted as a criminal felon for refusing to pay sales tax on newspaper distributions in SD. That case will be appealed after his May 8th sentencing. The author has been representing himself in court, without an attorney, for the last 20 years.
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