Groups File Bogus Liens from Own `Courts' Residents Use Common Law to Set Up Own Justice System
Jim Gallagher Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Patrick Flynn, an associate circuit judge in Lincoln County, faces a lien for $1.5 million.
So does G. John Richards, the Lincoln County prosecutor.
The liens, which are on record at the courthouse in Troy, Mo., were issued through a court that most people have never heard of. It's called "Our One Supreme Court, Lincoln county, country of Missouri (a Republic), a state within the several States united in America." Richards and Flynn, along with several other public officials, police officers and private citizens, have run afoul of the "common law courts" movement in Missouri. In Pike, Lincoln and Montgomery counties, groups of disgruntled people are setting up their own courts. They're issuing summonses, conducting trials and filing liens against property. A leader of one group says there are 6,000 people active in Missouri, but authorities can't confirm that number. Members of the movement often declare themselves "sovereign citizens" or "freeman characters" with the right to have justice done in their own courts. They accuse the federal government of abandoning the Constitution, and they say their own courts have more authority than their state and federal competition. State officials say the common law courts have no legal authority. But the movement worries law enforcement officials. They see it as an attempt to scare judges, prosecutors and police. Prosecutor Richards says members of the group tried to hand a summons to a Highway Patrol trooper at his home near Rolla last week. "If they'll go down to a state trooper's house, could they come to my house?" asks Richards. Common law leaders here say they have no links to more radical groups such as armed militias or the Freemen. The Freemen, who also issued liens, are now in the 17th day of a siege by FBI agents at a Montana ranch. The local common law leaders say they also have no involvement with Sovereign Business System. Missouri securities regulators this month accused the Houston firm of bilking hundreds of Missourians, many of them in Montgomery County. But the common law courts situation is prompting an investigation by state Attorney General Jay Nixon. "We're always concerned when people attempt to take the judicial system into their own hands," he said. Nixon declined to say what action he plans but said people would know "relatively soon." The movement in Missouri suffered its first financial casualty this week. Leonard "Sonny" Korte says he lost his Pepsi distributorship in Bowling Green because of a boycott started by customers opposed to his participation in common law courts. Meanwhile, the $1.5 million lien in Lincoln County has Judge Flynn worried. "If I go to refinance my home, this is a cloud on the title," he says. Officials say such liens could also blemish a person's credit report. The liens are long, official-looking documents filled with dense legalese. They're notarized and often stamped with the "Our One Supreme Court" seal. The liens carry no weight in state courts. But officials say they could cause trouble. County recorders of deeds say they have no choice but to accept them. "Anyone can record anything they want as long as it's properly prepared," said St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds Daniel O'Leary. Prop erly prepared means legible and notarized. The liens would show up on title searches done when people sell or refinance property. They would also appear on routine scans ordered by credit reporting agencies. A speeding ticket put Flynn and Richards at odds with the common law courts. Amanda Brook Lenk, 17, was stopped by a state trooper in February and charged with driving 78 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone. Lenk, who lives in the small Lincoln County town of Silex, had declared herself a "freeman character" immune from state courts. She showed up for trial last month accompanied by Clifford Keith Hobbs, 31. Hobbs, a common law courts activist from Montgomery City, said he'd represent Lenk. …