SODDY-DAISY, Tenn. — Leading the evening at the end of the arraignment docket is Basil Marceaux, a patriotic and political figure who has studied the liberty of the people guaranteed in the law. He has argued in many court cases and in bids for political office that the modern police state has overstepped its authority, and that he is being oppressed as a defender of the common man for acts that are not common law crimes.
Indeed, he has a common touch, and here in sessions court he argues over a matter pertaining to the reinstatement of a driver’s license in a “driving on revoked” case. A F$140 fee or fine is at issue, and he mentions he has F$2,000 in fines or penalties from other confrontations with the state.
By David Tulis
“You have to be able to get your license back,” evidently so charges can be dismissed, Judge Lasley says. He says he will help him do it. Both men raise their voices, the judge with firmness, and Mr. Marceaux with conviction. If Mr. Marceaux is seen engaging in the operation of a motor vehicle and driving (both under commercial jurisdiction), he will be arrested and face six months in jail.
The clerks, officers and others “in the know” about Mr. Marceaux are bemused at his protestations and seemingly complex claims, which sound either very smart or slightly wacky and impossible. Though others laugh, I’ve always taken his arguments seriously, though I have not heard them in detail.
(Mr. Marceaux will give me a live interview on Soddy-Daisy’s very own all-news all-talk radio station, AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio, at 9 a.m. Tuesday. (The show airs live on YouTube on the Hotnewstalkradio channel, via smartphones on the TuneIn radio app and online at Hotnewstalkradio.com. Rate my bow tie by emailing me at this website. I don’t cover his legal particulars today, but have explored Mr. Marceaux’ opposition to driver licenses in cheerful and exhaustive detail elsewhere.)
➤ Shortly after Mr. Marceaux stalks out, Amber Ramsey appears and is asked if she could pass a drug test. She goes out to take a urinalysis. She emerges, and gives an audible sign of relief on her way out the door. She’d been told told to come back in 60 days to show narcotics are out of her system and to demonstrate proof of employment.
➤ Valerie Young appears, and a check of the papers in her case raise the question of whether she has an attorney. She is dismissed with instructions to obtain an attorney.
Five male prisoners appear, and three women. Women on left, men on the right.
‘Waiving the court’
One of the necessary facts to know about city courts and sessions courts is that they don’t have to be tolerated by a defendant.
People charged with offenses or even crimes can do what Jaimy Ware did. They can “waive” their cases to the grand jury. Now Judge Lasley is not one to frame this decision as one invoking great peril and certain to guarantee disaster for the defendant. Other judges pretend, in their public show, that sending a case to the grand jury is a mistake, a risk only fools would contemplate.
But Mr. Ware, facing five counts, “[has] the absolute right to do that,” because it is is part of his common law rights to be tried by a jury and not in an informal and often rushed setting of a corporation court — a court created by a city or town and designed as a relief valve for the juried courts. But Judge Lasley makes overmuch, perhaps, of his RIGHT to have his trial in his court, and wants Mr. Ware to understand that he is “waiving the right to a preliminary hearing.”
He tells Mr. Ware to make sure Aslinger bonding knows about his situation. The grand jury may take 30, 60 or 90 days to hear charges against him, he says. If there is probable cause for a trial, he says, Mr. Ware will be indicted and face trial on the details from the petit jury.
➤ Three women stand at the podium. In the middle, the mother. On either side, two daughters with diverse genetic background. The mom testifies, without being sworn, about a spat within the house that drew a police visit to separate the two younger women, each of which has small children.
Judge Lasley would like to “pass the case on good behavior” and “override the district attorney” but wishes to speak with the officer. “We may get this resolved tonight,” he says, hopefully.
The judge cites a “no contact” order that was, or will be, in effect 30 days. He agrees to keep it for six months and the cases will be dismissed if nothing else happens Sept. 20. “Once Denise has moved out, you are free to move in,” he says to one of the sisters.
Small cases for ex-prosecutor
➤ A Christian friend with a lacy headcovering follows Valerie Young to the podium. Judge Lasley says he will appoint Ms. Young a public defender to the woman wearing jeans and with an overwrought coif. “She’s a young girl we watched and helped for the last 10 years,” testifies the friend, without being sworn. Cat Wilson, her business card says, is an ambassador for the Plexus Worldwide brand of supplements.
➤ There’s relief for Tracy Ann Rogers. She is secure in the presence of Rex Sparks, a former federal prosecutor and respectable looking elder statesman sort of man. “It looks like she’s done what the court’s asked her to do,” Judge Lasley says, approvingly.
Yes, Mr. Sparks says.
“Ma’am, you’ve done what the courts asked and you are excused.” Mrs. Rogers and the attorney shake hands at the front, and she vanishes.
➤ Jason Bice stands exceedingly straight. Mr. Sparks is serving him, too. A discussion ensues about Mr. Vice’s taking part in a group study. “Looks like we’re going to pass until April 5. Is that my understanding? Good luck to you, sir,” the judge says.
Mr. Bice wears glasses with closely cropped hair and and a tightly shaven beard. Manacles.
➤ Michael Ashley is a contrast. Not standing straight at all, he wears long hair, baggy jeans, with pentacles inked on his arms. He slouches over the podium in an air of disregard. Up for discussion: The amount owed the court in his “simple possession or casual exchange” charge. He is sent to the clerk’s office to pay. “Then you can come and see me,” Judge Lasley orders. Clerks on either side sit with heads bowed before them.
Wal-Mart fights back
➤ And now the first theft case with the victim being the world’s biggest corporation. Wal-Mart has a superstore at the Harrison Lane exit of Highway 27. This first is the Darren Elrod case.Wal-Mart sprinkles the docket tonight.
“Has restitution been made yet,”
A woman with a file folder comes up and stands behind and to the left of the defendant. The judge does the math: F$488 plus F$358 — Judge Lasley asks when it will be repaid among the three sets of shoplifting charges. He says he wants to make sure the district attorney is “all right” with the arrangements. But where is the DA tonight? Cases move along, though the accuser is an abstraction, a legal corporation like Wal-Mart, and its agent, the district attorney, is absent. No one seems to care, no one objects. The state’s management of the people sleep-walks through another Tuesday night in Soddy-Daisy with Judge Lasley’s consent.
➤ Michael Brown approaches, and here a convivial greeting: “Hey, Mr. Brown, how’s it going?”
Before him is a “petition to revoke.” That refers to a driver license. Are you working? What are your plans on the fines and court costs? the judge asks.
Proof will be necessary when Mr. Brown returns. The case will be passed until April 5. Well, that docket’ll be too crowded. How about April 19? he says to the clerk.
➤ A prisoner, Mr. Bradford, stands before the judge. While the judge wears a black robe, the prisoner wears a bright yellow outfit with “Hamilton County Jail” on the back.
➤ While some charges are mere paper crimes (failure to appear), others are accused of acts that are sins. Brandi Giannunzio is accused of domestic assault and appears without an attorney. Austin Layne, 21, is accused of “leaving the scene of an accident,” a rule of biblical origin under the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt do no murder”). But he is also charged with “failure to appear” and “evading arrest,” the latter occurring when he ran away from a cop, according to an officer standing by.
Moist-eyed in regret
➤ The only tears I see tonight are under the eyes of Rhonda Martin, glinting on her cheeks as she rises from her seat to meet the lawyer before the semi-circular raised platform where the representatives of the state are seated. Is this a plea agreement with her signature affixed? Yes. She is dressed some propriety, with bleached hair, short. Three cases will be dismissed — possession of drug paraphernalia, marijuana and domestic assault. Attorney John McDougal says she will be vacating a house after getting out her furniture and after that there will be no contact George and Brenda Shadwick. “Her meth for resale charge is being reduced for possession,” the judge states. What is the basis? The small amount, the attorney says.
A jail prospect of 11 months and 29 days is suspended. So is a F$750 fine. She’ll get probation level No. 2. She signs.
Mrs. Martin says she has started a job but is not paid for two weeks. Evidently she will have court costs. The judge promises he’ll waive one penalty “as an extra incentive to you.” She will be subject to random drug tests for six months, he says. “You’ll be on call and you come in when they call. It’ll be random.” She’ll get a call and will have three days to get the drug test, he explains. Though she is represented, he speaks to her and asks her if she enters the plea because “you are guilty or it is it in your best interests?” Judge Lasley asks. She affirms. “All right. I’m going to accept it.”
Seeing me in the hallway, she ducks from my camera.
➤ Brittney Flannigan is a young woman with a ponytail and tattoos. She says she is working but still owes the state F$238. The judge is worried her debt won’t be paid off but his remedy appears stiffening the threat. “We need to speed it up,” he says, and if she doesn’t he will “put you on a plan” ordering her to speed it up. Rex Sparks is her attorney, and the charges are shoplifting and “aggravated criminal trespassing.”
➤ Charlotte Daniels — She says yes, she needs more time for an attorney. May 3, 5:00 is deadline. She wears heavy frame glasses.
Taken into custody
➤ “In cash we trust” are the words on the belt holding up the trousers of Michael Hunt. Attorney problem, too. “The county has warrants on you,” Judge Lasley says, “and the county is going to take you into custody.” A woman stands by Mr. Hunt’s side. She says she forgives him and she says willing to go to prosecutor on his behalf. But other acts have caught up with Mr. Hunt. His sharp goatee slicing the space in front of him, he hustles out of the courtroom, but not out the main door, but through a door at the head of the room on the left from which officers come and go.
It’s 6:30 p.m., and the room is thinning out. The third row on the left side lies empty of defendants and supporters.
Corporate giant insists on its rights
➤ Carsha Page sits in the Soddy-Daisy court with her notebook and sheaf of paper. She keeps the corporation’s record of loss at the hands of people accused of stealing from the Soddy-Daisy store. Tonight: Nine cases to address.
She appears behind Kristin Higgins, accused of theft. Mrs. Higgins gives an account of her efforts to pay back what she took. She works 17 to 30 hours a week at Mapco. “As of March 4, I was on maternity leave. I’ll be having my daughter in three weeks.” She tells the judge she’s confident she can make good, and Judge Lasley gives her 60 days and permission to go onto Wal-Mart property to make payments a hair over F$421 to the Soddy-Daisy store. He warns her that absent restitution, she faces a felony charge — a case that could bring more than a year in a cell. Judge Lasley said the case has “worked out. I think that’s a good option for you.”
➤ Mrs. Page appears again up front as another defendant, Stephanie Taylor, stands accused of stealing F$343 of goods from Wal-Mart. The case is delayed.
➤ A man named Gary Harvey appears, absent an attorney. “I thought you were supposed to have one (lawyer) by today,” the judge queries, “weren’t you?” He tells Mr. Harvey, “Go talk to the DA and come back and see me.”
➤ Many cases are passed for time needed to obtain legal counsel or representation. Michael Hanks has his case passed to May 10. Later is Mr. Harvey. The judge gives him 45 days to get one, and out he goes with a card in his possession.
Disregarding Marceaux’ example
➤ Several cases touch on the state’s regulation of the use of the public highway by its authority to regulate commerce. To one defendant Judge Lasley says, reminding and insistent, that she’s not “driving” and he wants her to show him “you’re making progress. But no driving.”
Another man brings himself to the court’s attention requesting a “restricted license” application form. The clerk gives him one. The petitioner is there to ask if there is anything Judge Lasley might want him to do in his case. No, Mr. Lasley says.
➤ Michael Brown is called. One of the officers recommends — and so, too, the DA who is there not in the flesh but by word of mouth — the case be dismissed if there is no further trouble.
But a restitution issue exists. The case has two victims, the lawyer says — an older gentleman and Nickie Akins.
Mr. Akins is called up. The neighbor says the perpetrator, a Mr. Sutton, is not in the court, and “was on meth and stuff and your honor knows when you’re on meth you’re not yourself.” He is referring not to Mr. Brown, the man on the dock.
It’s not clear why a criminal accusation of theft over F$1,000 and burglary is cleared up but the defendant is still saddled with fees. Judge Lasley accepts the arrangement, but wants Mr. Brown “to pay costs on one of them.” $145 will be costs on one of the charges. Both cases dismissed. Fine.
➤ Some defendants are hastily set free from the state’s heavy hand. Vanessa Thompson is told: “Your case is being dismissed. Any objection to that?” Judge Lasley grins. But she shows no emotion after saying farewell, and walks out.
‘Best interests’ for Mr. Ledbetter
➤ A guilty plea to simple possession of an illicit narcotic wins for Anthony Ledbetter a plea agreement. Mr. Lasley holds up a paper. “Is that your signature?”
A sentence of 11-29 (11 months and 29 days) is suspended. Mr. Ledbetter gets probation level 2, a F$250 fine plus costs. Yes, that is Mr. Ledbetter’s understanding as the judge rehearses the matter. He says he enters it because he is guilty or it’s in his “best interest.” The regimen of drug screens for six months will prove costly. When notified, he must report in three days and bring with him cash, cashier’s check or a money order to pay. A drug screen on his first day will not count against him even if it shows positive, the judge says, but is a “baseline.”
➤ A rare defendant is one who understands the niceties of the court, generally honored by attorneys. Mr. Shelby, who affirmed he had a DUI course certificate and proof of fines paid, says, “May I approach?” I didn’t hear any attorneys showing such deference to the judge.
Young life gets early rot with drugs
➤ Joseph Woodward says he has been on probation, that he has receipts for F$2,500 paid, and has fines involved in his case. The judge notes that “we are moving at an extremely fast clip tonight” but that prisoners awaited from the county jail are late arriving. So he expands a personal inquiry into Mr. Woodward. He is 22, has graduated.
“What is the issue that has brought you into all these different courts?”
“Growing up, I guess,” is the reply.
The judge offers a brief lecture about finding one’s purpose and meaning in life, suggesting that anyone who is in his court has somehow missed caring for his or her own self-interest.
Mr. Woodward goes on to say he is working for a company with the word national in the name. He can get started in employment, yes. But he describes it in a way to suggest earnings are not likely immediately. He can call the company, he says, and get on a list. The two men mention the prospect of trade school
Mr. Woodward, a tall man, says he has worked at various jobs already. The judge says “nothing has happened in your life that you cannot accomplish” if Mr. Woodward would just set his mind to it. Judge Lasley says he’s 54, and he thinks back on the span of time since he was 22.
“It’s up to you,” he says. “Have drugs played a role?”
Mr. Woodward was on opiates “that controlled me pretty much.” He had been to a methadone clinic, which was OK’d by his probation overseer in a state case.
The conversation turns on an official drug touted by Massachusetts and other states: Suboxone, offered as a state remedy to addiction to privately peddled narcotics. The more Judge Lasley reads about Suboxone, the more he doubts its value. Officials in downtown Chattanooga object to it, he says. A methadone clinic “is easily abused,” Mr. Lasley intones. “It’s legal,” but its long-term benefits are iffy.
At this point one of the two men from Transformation Project on the front row pipe up. They say none of the people who’ve gone through their program have been treated with methadone or Suboxone.
Craig Paul, 69, and Gerry Dierks call themselves court liaisons and routinely attend Soddy-Daisy sessions court.
“If this court can do anything to help you, we will” by way of letter or other, the judge intones. “I’m just concerned about the long term with drugs and with the methadone clinic.”
Mr. Woodward’s domestic situation may be strained on other fronts, as well. He lives with his girlfriend at either his or her parents’ house.
➤ The night’s biggest financial burden appears to be resting on Chadwick Rhudy. He owes F$2,600 in fines. He’s not going to meetings, “but I would like to,” he insists. The judge agrees. “You gotta make some progress on your payments, and I need to see some AA meetings.”
➤ A plea agreement tosses the case against Stephanie Taylor, wearing slacks and a green outfit. Against her are criminal trespass charges stemming from a Wal-Mart theft in which it is alleged she stole makeup and tore apart the packaging. The store’s Mrs. Page appears again, saying she’s not sure what “corporate” will say about the arrangements. Because Mrs. Taylor has been banned, the judge says, she will have to engage someone else to remit payments on the store’s property.
➤ I cannot figure out where hides the ankle monitor of a man who has a crutch and a foot device or cast reaching nearly to his right knee. Is the beeper inside? I can’t make it out.
— David Tulis hosts a show 9 to 11 today and every weekday at Soddy-Daisy’s very own radio station, the all-talk and all news station AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio. He covers local economy and free markets in Soddy-Daisy and beyond.
For other essays about the informal hubbub of city and sessions courts in Hamilton County, Tenn., (traffic charges) you may enjoy:
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City court as the janitorial closet for public schools — a quick take on the business of city court on my talk show Friday, March 18, 2016.