Right-to-travel activist and perennial candidate Basil Marceaux is scheduled to argue two cases in circuit court today, ones that his opponents say are either moot or wrongly considered.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
Mr. Marceaux is on a quest to have created a court to hear cases pursuant to a series of one-page orders handed down in petitions to Tennessee civil and criminal courts of appeal. He says that under law he has a right to a completely new trial — a trial de novo — in a criminal case rising from an inferior court such as city or sessions.
Civil cases are routinely heard “de novo” out of sessions court, says circuit court judge Marie Williams. But Mr. Marceaux says a criminal case appealed from a city court requires a court that doesn’t exist.
The parties met May 8 and waited nearly 90 minutes for the docket to clear. But Mr. Marceaux asked for delay as the clock ticked away. “I’m trying to solve a 150-year-old problem *** with 21 different issues,” he says, a broadside that won’t fit into even two hours, especially with rebuttal.
Says attorney Sam Elliott, representing Soddy-Daisy: “Basil has decided he needed four hours to present all his arguments and the judge had another order of protection and — and Basil also claimed he was having some health issues. We agreed to continue it. *** For this, four hours is excessive.”
Mr. Marceaux met with circuit court clerk Larry Henry on Thursday for 45 minutes to discuss the creation of a court, Mr. Marceaux says, that is qualified to hear his appeal from a case within a city limit jurisdiction.
Town says city court exercises lawful authority
Mr. Marceaux has lofty reform goals that may not gain traction from the matter on circuit court judge Neal Thomas’ docket. “Two cases have been filed by Mr. Marceaux whereby he contends that cases arising in the municipal court of Soddy-Daisy should be appealed after their disposition to circuit court,” Mr. Elliott says.
“And he’s explained those cases to you as best he understands them. The problem is is that — and where he’s wrong — is that Soddy-Daisy has a court that has general sessions jurisdiction within the limits of Soddy-Daisy, And what that means is that state general sessions type cases that arise — criminal cases — that arise in Soddy-Daisy can be heard in Soddy-Daisy city cases. State cases, in the [Tennessee Code Annotated], state cases, state misdemeanors, OK? The law is that if a municipal court hears a city ordinance violation, that is a civil case. And that goes to circuit court. But circuit court and criminal court are two peas in a pod as far as their jurisdiction. One of them just hears all criminal cases. One of them hears all civil cases. But they’re both, they’re two branches of the same court.”
In a July 15, 2016, ruling against him, criminal court judge Tom Greenholtz says Soddy-Daisy city court has jurisdiction “to hear criminal actions involving violations of state law, thereby essentially exercising jurisdiction as a court of general sessions.” It’s not clear from the ruling where the right to trial de novo stands, as trial de novo is not an appeal, but an entirely new hearing and trial and not an appeal upon an existing legal record.
Soddy-Daisy city court authority disputed
Mr. Marceaux says he represents tens of thousands of people who have been abused by police and courts and who have been denied redress.
“The city of Soddy-Daisy sent their police out disguised as military people, looks like state police, to pull me over in disguise and give me a ticket for a state crime when the Tennessee supreme court and the criminal court of appeals says they cannot. They’re civil. They can’t do any punishment — in [Chattanooga vs.] Davis and Frank Barrett. That was in 2004. In there, the attorney general said to them, the supreme court, that these people are violating my rights and my due process. But because [appellant Kevin] Davis didn’t have standing, they didn’t rule on it. They’d wait until the next time. But that’s 17 years ago, and they still didn’t cover those bases, and everyone’s still making money at gunpoint.”
The unfinished business in the Davis case continues to fester, Mr. Marceaux says, and district attorneys cannot pursue criminal cases with city borders, since city jurisdiction is limited to fines no higher than $50, and they have no criminal jurisdiction.
Mr. Elliott says Marty Lasley, city court judge in Soddy-Daisy, has authority to hear criminal cases arising under statute. “Yes, he does. There’s a provision in the TCA that allows the city to elect to do that, and you pass an ordinance at a certain time. We did all that circa 1990.” He was city attorney at the time, an assignment he’s had since 1989.
Elliott: Marceaux in contorted legal position
Mr. Marceaux has argued that two major supreme court cases arising from Chattanooga limit cities to operating a civil jurisdiction only. “He’s not making it up,” Mr. Elliott affirms. “The point is is that he would be absolutely right if he were being charged with a city ordinance violations. *** But he is absolutely wrong, because he is being charged with state criminal cases. That’s the difference. That’s the difference.
“And therefore these two cases are — one of them is moot, because one of the cases has actually been dismissed. And the other one is, this judge does not have subject matter jurisdiction over it because Basil is trying to appeal a case that he pled guilty to three years ago.”
The distinction between civil and criminal courts is one of function rather than of category of law, says a local judge not party to the case. Agreeing with attorney Elliott, Judge Barry Steelman of Hamilton County criminal court says his tribunal is a circuit court, one specializing in criminal cases.
“My responsibility is designed to hear criminal cases. I can hear a divorce, I can hear a tort action, because I am a circuit court judge.” The sheer number of cases in Chattanooga prompt the judiciary to ordain that his part of circuit hear criminal cases exclusively, Judge Steelman says.
Mr. Marceaux, who calls himself “a force recon Marine, the best soldier in the nation,” says his argument is against slavery, the lawless use of force to deprive people of their money and their liberty. “I’m in a civil court; the supreme court says I’m supposed to be in civil court, but they say I need to be in a civil court that has two jurisdictions, one is civil, one is circuit court, one is sessions. That court was never built. They send me to criminal court at gunpoint, force me to pay bond, keep me in jail ‘til I’m scared enough to make a deal.”
Most dealings in sessions court are horse trading and dealings over plea bargains, and not real court cases, he says.
The court system “needs to be closed down and rebooted,” Mr. Marceaux says, pursuant to City of Chattanooga v. Myers and City of Chattanooga v. Davis.