10/26/2006

Sam Harris, Jailer

As many of you have read, Sam Harris has about one defender on this blog, a local attorney named Allen. (You can find some of his comments here, or here.) Well, now Allen has taken on the issue of Sam Harris's illegal jailing of a single mother of three over in the comments at Firefly's place.

When I read Allen's comments, it appeared clear to me that he had investigated the facts of the Jenice Freer jailing since he described much that had not appeared in the newspaper. I don't know if he simply read the Court file, or if he actually spoke with his friend Sam Harris. Clearly, though, he is offering a defense of our local Justice of the Peace's decision to throw a woman in jail for a civil debt. Much of what he wrote just didn't seem right to me so I, too, decided to investigate a bit further.

In fact, I have reviewed the Court documents that were available to District Court Judge Kenneth R. Neill. Yes, he is the one who overturned Harris and set the debtor free. Allen, or Sam Harris acting through Allen, is not giving us the whole picture.

First, Allen argues that justice is blind and who cares if Freer is a single mom. Allen's statement is true...as far as it goes. It is also very unrealistic. Judges wield a tremendous amount of power, and they exercise a great deal of discretion in its use. Starting from the entirely accurate premise that one should not be jailed for civil debts in any event, it is entirely appropriate for a judge to consider one's circumstances in exercising his discretion.

Next, Allen alleges as follows: "Second, Freer was thrown in jail for contempt, not for refusing to pay the debt itself, but because she, as the bookkeeper for her business, refused to obey compulsory legal process which required her to garnish the wage of an employee, simply because she was the employee facing the garnishment." Try as I might, I could not find any suggestion that Freer operates her business as an entity separate from herself.

She is, from all appearances, a d/b/a (doing business as), or a sole proprietor. In other words her business is her. So she, the bookkeeper wasn't supposed to garnish "wages" for her employee, any "wages" would have been payable from her to her. This whole bookkeeper thing seems to be a bit of legal gobbledeegook intended to throw you off. There are also significant exemptions to garnishment available. How did Harris know that there was even non-exempt money with which to satisfy the writ at the time he threw Freer in jail?

He didn't. No hearing had been held.

This is because, despite Allen's statements, the creditor did not seek to have Freer held in contempt for 'refusing to obey compulsory process requiring her to garnish wages.' The creditor sought to hold her in contempt because the creditor claimed she had a legal obligation to return the compulsory process (writ of execution) to the Court. From the creditor's application to Judge Harris: "The failure of Ms. Freer to make a proper return is a direct violation of this CourtÂ’s order contained in each writ of execution." And, if one reads the documents, one will find that the creditor's statement is flat out false. The writ, in fact, ordered Ms. Freer to do no such thing. The writ ordered the "Sheriff, Constable or Process Server" to make the return.

So it is entirely inaccurate to 'spin' this as some sort of a willful refusal by Ms. Freer as a "bookkeeper." What we have is an entirely ordinary turn of events, a writ of execution that is not successful.

And, Allen, the "obfuscating" continues. For you see, ladies and germs, the creditor did not even ask Sam Harris to throw this woman in jail. The creditor asked for a hearing: "she should be ordered to personally appear before the Court and show cause why she should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the CourtÂ’s Orders."

Without a hearing we don't even know if Ms. Freer had the money to pay the debt. Or, according to Allen, is it "an affront to and an assault upon the legal system itself" to be broke? Maybe in Justice Court it is.

In the rest of the USA it's called due process. Before someone takes away your FREAKING LIBERTY you have a right to notice and an opportunity to be heard. But not in Sam Harris's Justice Court.

Allen suggests that "the proper remedy was to seek and obtain a warrant for contempt." But that's not what happened, is it? The creditor didn't seek an arrest warrant. No, the creditor's attorney apparently understands due process. If one is accused of something, one should have notice and an opportunity to be heard. And that's what the creditor's attorney suggested. But no, not in Justice Court. In Justice Court Sam Harris just decided this woman should go to jail.

Ok, now let's move to the bail issue. When Sam Harris threw this woman in jail for a civil debt, for failure to make a return of service (that she had not been ordered to do), he set bail at $500.00. But then he refused to accept a cash bail in that amount.

This is because he made a very unusual (albeit legal) requirement that bail be made by "written undertaking, with two sufficient sureties." According to the affidavit on file, when the individual attempted to post bail of $500.00, Judge Harris told him "the CourtÂ’s order regarding bail requires a written undertaking and two sureties. Harris further told [the gentleman who tried to post bail] that normal bonding companies will not provide those requirements and will not provide sureties, and that therefore Jenice D. Freer could not get out of jail." [Emphasis mine]

I frankly don't care if she's a single mom or not; no one in this state should be held without bail for a civil debt. Because that's what happened here. A creditor tried to collect a debt, was unsuccessful, and complained to Sam Harris. Then Harris, on his own volition, decided to throw this person (see Allen, not single mother) in jail without an effective means of release.

So, if Allen wants to defend the indefensible, he can go right ahead. Judge Neill didn't buy it, and no other judge is going to buy it either. All of this reminds me of how Harris sounded in Sunday's paper: everyone else is wrong...it's a personal vendetta...people are just mad because I'm doing such a great job...I deserve the compassion I refuse to give others...it's my political enemies...blah, blah, blah.

5 comments:

allen said...

Whoa! Ease up, counselor. If these apparent attacks on my integrity continue, I might begin to take this personally. I am sorry if you were offended by my use of the word obfuscating; I used it to describe your argument, not your character.

I am confused as to why you continue to suggest that Harris is acting through me, given my statement yesterday that we have not been in communication over these issues.

I have never posted, here or elsewhere, anything that I knew to be false.

I have never offered an unqualified defense of Harris. If you read all of my comments, you have to admit that what I have done is address only those issues where I think that he is being attacked unfairly, or where I think the arguments made or facts given are one-sided. My posts are full of disclaimers.

In a court of law, both sides get to put on evidence. Your blog is not a court of law, but it is a public forum, a mixture of information and opinion that influences people. Parts of your posting have seemed one-sided. When I address them, I am not acting as an advocate for Harris, but as an advocate for fairness and just consideration of all of the facts.

I made some points and provided some information in firefly's blog that you have now responded to in detail and analyzed, raising the level of debate and awareness, something that would not have happened without my efforts. You now admit that the Tribune article didn't contain all of the facts and that you were not in possession of them either. You admit that the Harris' position on the bail question was supported by the written law and technically correct.

But most important to me is your recognition, even if qualified, that a person's status should not affect a judge's decision-making. What triggered my post in firefly's blog was the constant reiteration of this woman's status as a poor single mom. How many times did you and firefly and the tribune describe her as such? And what was your motivation in doing so? Like I said there, everyone is entitled to the same justice, regardless of sex, race, married status or parental status. Walter Sobcheck and I are gratified that you now "frankly don't care if she's a single mom or not", because the law shouldn't care either.

Anyway, I have a thick hide and a good sense of humor. Attack my arguments vociferously. But my integrity?

GeeGuy said...

I apologize. I almost included a "smile" disclaimer like you did with the anonymous poster, but figured you would take it as snide and sarcastic. I got a little fired up when writing, so I apologize for any personal attacks. I made an assumption that, perhaps, you know more about the case than you really do. If I get a chance this a.m., I will reword it to eliminate suggestions that you intentionally misled anyone, although I still think your post is misleading.

GeeGuy said...

Ok, now I have cleaned it up. In exchange I ask you to do something.

Please explain the basis for your assertions about this 'bookkeeper' defense,' as well as the implication that Judge Harris had all this information before deciding to throw this woman in jail. I mean, come on, you state that you have not talked to Harris about this, and what you have posted is directly contradicted by the pleadings. I agree you would not knowingly post something false so....where did you get this information?

GeeGuy said...

Hello? Allen?

GeeGuy said...

Oh, come on, Allen. I toned down my remarks. Tell me, where did you get all of the information you posted on Firefly's site? You are not a funnel for Harris. You didn't get it from the newspaper. You didn't post anything you believed to be false.

So, where did you get the info?