Common Law Grand Jury group cited as extremist

by W. Winston Skinner


The Anti-Defamation League has issued this report, “The Lawless Ones,” on the sovereign citizen movement. The Common Law Grand Jury is considered part of that movement, according to an ADL official. 

The Anti-Defamation League has identified the Common Law Grand Jury effort as part of an extremist movement.

Brant Frost V, who is chairman of the Coweta County Republican Party, is also the Coweta County point of contact for the National Lib erty Alliance, the organization promoting the CLGJ. Frost said Friday that the net effect of the creation of such grand juries would be a better informed and educated jury pool – not something radical and extreme.

The NLA invited citizens from across Georgia to Ringgold on July 31. The purpose of that meeting, according to a press release from John Darash of the NLA, was “holding an election for the reinstating of the Common Law Grand Jury” in each of Georgia’s 159 counties.

On Aug. 7, Mark Pitcavage, PhD, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, contacted The Newnan Times-Herald. “The common law grand jury is a tactic of the anti-government extremist ‘sovereign citizen’ movement, intended to achieve much the same effect of the vigilante ‘common law courts’ they tried to establish in the 1990s,” he stated.

An article on the ADL blog stated “members of a grow ing anti-government extrem ist group” are forming their own grand juries – some of which have “already issued demands against local gov ern ment officials.”

The blog identified NLA as “a rel a tively new sov er eign cit i zen group.”

The NLA website states the group “is the result of political and judicial research that began in the spring of 2008. Initially called the New York Committeemen, the group changed its name as residents of other states got involved.

According to the ADL, Darash, who is from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. formed the group in 2011 as the New York Lib erty Alliance. The group’s name was reportedly changed last year, and the NLA has its national headquarters in Hyde Park, N.Y., a few miles from Poughkeepsie.

The ADL blog also identified Darash as a “sov er eign cit i zen guru.”

“The sov er eign cit i zen move ment is an extreme anti-government move ment whose adher ents believe that they can ignore vir tu ally all laws and reg u la tions because the gov ern ment is the prod uct of a malev o lent conspiracy,” according to the blog.

The move ment “has his tor i cally cre ated fic ti tious judi cial or gov ern men tal enti ties,” according to the ADL. … The CLGJs are the lat est vari a tions of this long-running theme. The NLA claims to have formed more than 100 CLGJs in the past year, although many are still basi cally notional,” according to the blog.

The concepts behind the CLGJ are “not as radical as some people might think,” Frost said.

Frost agreed to get involved after researching the NLA and talking with a coordinator from a nearby county. “Being a party chairman, I didn’t want to step into something that was going to reflect badly on the party,” he said.

He described the NLA and the CLGJ movement as a Tea Party/Libertarian movement “with heavy Christian influences.” Organizers “think they’ve found a back door into the citadel of tyranny,” Frost said.

Frost said having a CLGJ locally would mean that citizens could choose to serve or not to serve on a jury – without having to provide a reason. If they agreed to serve, they would be given training on various aspects of the law and the powers of the jury before serving.

There would be a new county office where staff would train those grand jurors. The result would be “a smarter juror, a more involved juror,” Frost said.

The current process often means that those selected for jury service are “people who know the least about everything,” Frost said.

In July, Frank S. Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and founding director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, said the Common Law Grand Jury is a concept that pre-dates the current system of American government.

“Somebody’s reaching back into early English history,” he said. While such grand juries played “a functioning part of the development of law in the 17th century,” the Common Law Grand Jury “does not have any contemporary parallel” and has not since the Revolutionary War, Alexander said.

C. Peter Erlinder, who teaches at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, and has been involved in international legal issues including service as lead defense counsel for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, talked about how Common Law Grand Juries functioned.

In colonial America, judges rode a circuit. There were no standing police or prosecutors and empaneled groups of 16-23 citizens decided who in their community should stand trial for criminal charges.

In the mid-1700s, “citizens knew more about what was going on in their town than the judge did” and there were no professional prosecutors or police, Erlinder said. Police and prosecutors have become commonplace “as society got more complex,” he said. Today, grand juries generally hear cases presented by prosecutors or police officers – or some combination. “They end up pretty much rubber stamping what the prosecutor presents them with,” Erlinder said.

The ADL reported CLGJs “have already begun harass ing local gov ern ment offi cials.” In Jan u ary 2014, CLGJ’s in two Florida counties issued writs of mandamus demand ing counties provide a bud get of $1.5 mil lion, office space and equip ment, and a meet ing room with a con fer ence table and com fort able chairs.

A CLGJ in New York has issued a “true bill” charg ing the chief court clerk in Greene County with not properly filing CLGJ paperwork and “fined” a judge there for failing to provide requested documents to the CLGJ.

The ADL was founded in 1913 as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. “Now the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all,” according to its website.

The ADL, headquartered in New York City, in 2012 issued a 35-page report, “The Lawless Ones: The Resurgence of the Sovereign Citizen Movement.”

“The sovereign citizen movement is an extreme anti-government movement whose members believe the government has not authority over them,” according to the report. “In 2012, the sovereign citizen movement is … one of the most problematic domestic extremist movements in the United States.”

The report also stated the sovereign citizen movement has a complicated ideology and noted “adherents of the movement typically do not form organized groups.” The movement often operates “‘under the radar’ of public attention.”

The report listed examples of sovereign citizen activity in Fannin County and DeKalb County. The report does not directly address the CLGJ movement, and Frost noted it does not mention the NLA.

He also said the ADL’s sites and documents do show “no direct link cited between the ‘sovereign state movement’ and NLA.”

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