Jury nullification advocate fails at First Amendment martyrdom

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Throughout January, the 50-something rogue activist and solar roofer Mark Schmidter handed out pamphlets to summoned jurors outside the downtown Orange County courthouse. The pamphlets, which bore the logo of the Fully Informed Jury Association, urged jurors to “nullify” unjust laws by intentionally voting for acquittal. This irked Ninth Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry, who on Jan. 31 issued an administrative order banning the pamphleting, thus setting off Central Florida’s latest First Amendment debate. To protest the new law, Schmidter employed retired professor and “civil disobedience expert” Julian Heicklen, who lives in New Jersey, to intentionally violate Perry’s order. Yet the court didn’t take the bait. Last Friday afternoon (March 11) as well as this past Monday morning, and Monday afternoon (March 14), the 79 year-old Heicklen pamphleted outside of the courthouse to summoned jurors (this time with brochures sans-FIJA logo; the group did not want to be associated with the protest), but according to the Orlando Sentinel, Heicklen only succeeded in attracting reporters, not police. Schmidter tells the Weekly that he had even called Judge Perry’s office to ensure that Perry knew about the protest. “Could you come down and arrest us? We’re here now,” re-enacted Schmidter, who then quipped: “Where’s the strong arm of the law when you need it?” Schmidter is now interpreting Heicklen's failure as a victory, however. “Julian’s idea is that if you go ahead and you confront them three times and they don’t arrest you, in one way, the judge nullified his own law,” he says. “If someone else gets arrested, you have that inconsistency problem." That “someone else” won’t be Mark Schmidter – he says he can’t afford to be arrested, and instead, will be pamphleting at the Seminole and Volusia County courthouses in the near future.

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