Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lies, Brutality, Theft, and the State and Federal Courts: The Ordeal of John and Theresa Sophocleus

When I did my graduate work at Auburn University, I became close friends with an economics instructor there, John Sophocleus, as well as his wife Theresa. Part of the friendship was based upon our mutual interest in economics, but also I took an interest in an ongoing issue that began to dominate their lives.

John and Theresa lived on U.S. 280 just outside of Auburn, and before they bought the house, they asked the Alabama Department of Transportation if the place was in danger of being taken as part of a highway widening project. The Alabama DOT said it was not, so they purchased it and soon John built a spacious garage/work area so he could pursue his work of restoring classic cars.

As one might expect, the DOT double-crossed him and the Sophocleuses were told their property would be taken by eminent domain. And, as one might expect, the DOT offered him a price that would have been about a third of the fair market value. Naturally, John and Theresa appealed the low-ball appraisal to the courts, but that did not sit well with the authorities.

For about three years, the State of Alabama engaged in a series of threats and lies aimed at driving them from their home. With my wife and me being regular guests at their home, we remember what they experienced, including the harassing phone calls and strange people showing up on their property at odd hours. (The authorities even had the pipes to the Sophocleus' septic tank broken as a tactic to force them out of the house, even though the law clearly stated that until the appraisal matter was resolved, John and Theresa were legally entitled to live there.)

The courts delayed, but a few days before Christmas, 1998, the government told the couple that they either had to move out immediately or face fines of $10,000 a day. The reason given by the authorities (under oath in court, I might add) was that they needed to raze the house quickly in order to keep highway construction going apace.

What the Alabama DOT authorities said and what they actually did were two different things. The house stood for another nine months because the government used it as a place for highway workers to live. That is correct. They lied in court under oath.

To make matters worse, the authorities denied later in court (under oath, of course) that they were housing highway workers at all, essentially calling John and Theresa liars. However, Alabama Power continued to send the electric bill to the couple as though they still were living there, and there was plenty of electricity being used, but not by my friends.

Furthermore, a number of us observed seeing people engaging in the act of living in the house, and all of us signed affidavits (under oath), but the difference was that we were telling the truth. In the spring of 1999, my wife and I went to a second-hand furniture store and the proprietor tried to sell us couches that he said were being used "in that house where they kept the highway workers." We declined the purchase.

Since 280 is a federal highway, John and Theresa filed suit in federal court. As Auburn University economist David Laband (a close friend of John and Theresa and my former department chair) wrote:
Mr. and Mrs. Sophocleus sued ALDoT, arguing that the taking was unconstitutional, since the state did not live up to the expressed public purpose used to justify the seizure and that therefore ownership should revert to them. The first federal judge to consider motions in the case, Susan Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, issued three summary judgments in favor of the Sophocleuses.
The Alabama authorities were unhappy with Judge Walker's rulings and managed to go judge shopping to Judge Myron Thompson's courtroom. Thompson clearly was hostile to John and Theresa and claimed that this was a state issue, not a federal one. However, as Prof. Laband wrote:
But as Alabama State Code 18-1A-et seq. makes clear, as affirmed by Judge Walker, the correct venue for plaintiffs in a civil rights case is the federal judiciary. By an 8-0 ruling (Justice John Roberts had not yet joined the Court) the Supreme Court in 2005 remanded the case back to the district court for remedy.

After stalling four full years, Judge Thompson and the judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to admit the earlier call had been blown and reiterated the previously overturned position. Once again, Mr. and Mrs. Sophocleus will appeal to the Supreme Court.
One would think that once the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on something, the lower courts would obey the ruling. Think again. As Prof. Laband noted, Thompson just ignored the ruling and has refused to hear the case.

At this point, one can imagine the frustration that John and Theresa were feeling. (I often have listened to that frustration in my many telephone calls to John, and he and his wife, while being highly-principled people, nonetheless have had to deal with being given a judge's back of the hand.)

They filed a petition again, but just this past week, the Supreme Court decided that it no longer wanted to abide even by its own rulings and ignored what it had previously said. That's right. The government changed the rules without even going through the pretense of using the proper legal channels.

So, John and Theresa stand outside the gates and are denied justice. Throughout the entire ordeal, the authorities offered them money as a "settlement," and John always turned them down. He wanted his day in court. He wanted an important constitutional issue to be decided where the law says it should be decided, but the "justices" decided that they would make up the rules as they go along.

To most people, this is just an insignificant property dispute in which someone wanted more money for their about-to-be-seized home than the government wanted to pay. But it never was about the money; it was about principle; it was about right and wrong.

A few years ago, I told John that the courts really did not know how to handle men and women of principle, and he was being regarded as a foreign object in the bloodstream. Since then, I have been involved in a number of civil and criminal cases and have concluded, to my sorrow, that there are very few people left employed by the "justice" system who care about justice at all.

Where are the judges who actually follow the law? They certainly are not in federal court, and CERTAINLY not in most state courts. Prosecutors? Give me a break. This blog has documented time and again instances of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, but I hold no hope at all that our system can be "reformed."

I'm not sure what my friends are going to do. A federal judge refuses to obey the law and the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it will do nothing about it.

When Judge Roy Moore placed the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court building, it was Thompson who ruled that the display had to be removed because, in Thompson's words, Moore was "thumbing his nose" at previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, when faced with a Supreme Court ruling he did not like, Thompson did what he darn well pleased.

This is the state of law in this country. Yes, there are good people who want to see right being done, but they just happen not to be employed as judges and prosecutors. No society can survive this kind of corruption, and ours will not survive, either, at least as a place where free people can live.


liberranter said...

Does this really, honestly surprise anyone? How much more of this criminal depredation has to occur before enough of the sheeple grow fangs and claws and put an end to it? (That's a rhetorical question, or course; the odds of Amoricon sheeple growing fangs and claws figuratively are about the same as actual sheep growing them literally.)

Lame said...

99.9999% of DOT ED conflict would be avoided if states and the Fed would enact a law that I've been promoting for the past 6 years: Whenever a road is built that does not pass through an already-existing or developing community, nobody can build a permanent structure within 75 feet of the center of said road. Therefore, if in the future the road needs to be expanded, they have 150 feet within to work with. If you have ever been down State Road 50 (AKA Colonial Blvd) in Orlando, Florida, you'll see a road that is in DESPERATE need of widening. Unfortunately, there are many businesses that are right up against the highway, with some areas the wall of a building and the actual portion of the road traveled by cars being separated by less then than four feet.

Lame said...

Oh, I wanted to mention something about Tonya Craft's latest episode on The Truth of the Matter. They were discussing the broken nature of the grand jury indictment process. They talked about how a determined DA can indict just about anyone of anything if he really pushes. What they didn't talk about is that if the DA is unwilling to push for certain indictments, even in defiance of the wishes of the victim(s), the GJ will not endict. Case and point is Patricia Dye. Some of you may have heard of her. She's the 30 year old woman in Ohio who was just sentenced today for having pretended to be a teenage boy in order to seduce underage teenage girls into sexual relationships. When the case was put before the GJ, the prosecutor really didn't do anything the way the victims wanted him to, and flubbed, amongst other things, the age of the main victim at the time sexual abuse occurred. The jury refused to indict Dye on ANY felony child sex assault charges because the prosecutor did not specify when the contact occurred, before or after the girl's birthday. The girl adimantly maintains that the first sexual contact occurred in the weeks prior to her 16th birthday, and that subsequent activity occurred after her birthday. The prosecutor just totally dropped the ball, and the GJ refused to indict. So, there is a 30 year old women, with a now proven track record (she admitted what she did, and despite what her lawyer has said to the judge, in radio interviews she has shown zero remorse) of preditory sexual behavior directed towards children, and yet, because the prosecutor was a complete waste of a suit, she will be released from jail the day after Christmas of this year, and she is not required to register as a sex offender.

Guys, one really has to wonder which is worse, a DA who will put an innocent person in jail to further their own career or one who will let a guilty person off because it would involve doing actual work.

Anonymous said...

WOW!!! Thank you for sharing this story.

My daughter is debating law school (for the good of the people) & keeps floudering between going for it & becoming an elementary school teacher. We keep explaining to her that either way, she will end up in law (we use Tonya as an example). We have really pushed her to go into law because of her heart, soul & goodness. She would be one who stood up to the bullies in every aspect of our "justice" system. We have many educators in our family who are pushing her also. They know the day-to-day battles of just trying to educate children. Luckily, we have a couple of friends who are good lawyers. By good, I mean not only good at what they do, but do good for people. If we could just get more like them & my daughter, we could see changes. Grant it, we will all be dead and gone by the time these changes could happen, but at least maybe some hope for our grandchildren.

Cases like this scare me just as much as Tonya's did & still does. As "average Joe's", we are more at risk to be harmed, than actual criminals.

God bless your friends on their journey & I will add them to my prayers. I applaud them for standing strong. At least they can hold their heads high, unlike the system that tried to beat them down.


Anonymous said...

Here's another way in which the system is broken:

Business shut down based on the say so of a police officer who is apparently judge, jury, and enforcer.

John Washburn said...

I think some parts of our culture are waking up to the true nature of the justice [sic] system. In last night's episode of The Defenders (the 20 teens version of the Bold Ones), the defense attorney expresses his outrage that when the prosecutor discovered the key witness committed perjury she "doubled down in order to win" rather than drop the case against the falsely accused defendant in the interest f Justice.
DA: "I'm just doing my job."
Defender: "No, you're not."

The episode ends with the Defender taking on the appeal of his client's supposed "partner in crime". the PD for the "partner" convinced his client to accept a 9 year prison sentence as a plea bargin. The DA now aware that the plea deal was offered and accepted based on perjured testimony will not do justice and release the "partner" who accepted a 9-year plea "bargin".

I mention this because while this aired last night. The script writing and filming happened at least 6 months ago (probably more than a year ago for the writing). An out of control, win at any cost DA and the carnage they cause to the innocent was in some writer's head well before last week’s USA today article.

At least one Hollywood screen writer understands the power and mind set of a prosecutor (win at all cost because that is my job) and the vital role defense attorneys have in protecting the Rights of the Accused when the prosecutor will be Minister of Justice and do there duty to protect the Rights of the Accused as well.

I hope this show becomes as wildly popular a Law and Order (and the Bold ones was in the '70s).

Anonymous said...

Thank God for a few people that will stand up for what is right. I was in the court housde a lot at the Craft trial.There was so much brought out against her that had nothing to do with the trial itself. I expected the Judge to throw part of it out but no, it was let in. The proscution had the run of that trial and every thing that the defence tried was shot down. Lord above please help this nation to get up and again and lets have a decent place to live and not be afraid. Just remember that God is in control and one day soon He is going to pull the plug on this earth. I know that He has to be very angry the way we are doing. God bless this Nation again

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anderson. I can't thank you enough for your comments. I do not understand how we got into the shape we are in . This is a great country and a good place to live but we are loosing every day a little bit more freedom and soon we will have nothing that is ours. What has happened to the values we were taugh by our parents?. are they not any good today? Bless your heart, stay with the blog for I believe that you are doing some good. You got my attention.

Anonymous said...

@ John Washburn, did you know that show is based on real stories? I saw an interview with Jim Belushi & yes there are things added for television purposes, but every episode is based on the trials of these 2 Vegas lawyers. Belushi said they have kept it as real as possible. I too enjoy the show & that particular episode really hit home. These guys are flashy, but have the Dr. Lorandos approach. They don't take a case unless they truly believe the client is innocent. Just thought you might find that little tid-bit interesting.

Also, there is a new book out called "Tested". It is about 12 Dallas area men who served anywhere from 18 months to 26 years in prison for false convictions. It should be interesting.

I am a victim of crime. Not once, but twice. Violent crimes at that. I also have an uncle who is a murderer. I am a firm believer that criminals should go to jail & especially violent ones, never see the light of day again. BUT, our system is so broken. With the technology we have today, there should be less false convictions, but with overzealous & outright criminal prosecutors & p.d.'s, I think we are seeing more.

I have had the pleasure of speaking to teenage girls about my experience & about safety. One thing I tell them is they must pay attention, whether they are being a victim of a crime, witnessing a crime or even just in their daily lives. Every detail matters. I tell them that if they are a victim of a crime, they could help send a guilty person to prison or with wrong information, they could send an innocent person to prison.

We should all be like this though. Heck, it helped save a little girl's life in California the other day, just think of how much "we the people" could change our society. We know we have lawless prosecutors & p.d.'s, so let's take action.

Doc Ellis said...

Shared as is. Thank you for writing this, Dr Anderson