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Posner Faces Scrutiny for Calling BS Legal Theory BS

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

If you've ever run into the so-called 'sovereign citizen' theory of the law, you know that it is, well, complete BS. The sovereign citizen movement is based on a strange interpretation of common law, the Uniform Commercial Code, and maritime law, which followers believe allows them to avoid taxes and pretty much all legal authorities. It's a movement based out of conspiracy, confusion, and a paranoid view of reality. It's just nuts.

But Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner is taking some heat from his colleagues for saying as much in court. Faced with a pro se sovereign citizen defendant in 2015, Posner showed little patience for the man's arguments, calling them "complete bullshit." Now his colleagues are considering whether Posner's frustration denied the man a fair trial.

Posner's Frustrating Criminal Trial

Hakeem El Bey came before Judge Posner when the judge, sitting by designation, presided over his trial for defrauding the IRS. A self-proclaimed sovereign citizen, El Bey handled his own defense. That defense involved, as Posner described it, El Bey's assertion that the court "'Lack[ed] Jurisdiction over the Person (contracted Artificial Subject vs Natural Borne)' -- whatever that means."

It involved claims that El Bey was a Moor or a member of the Cherokee tribe, that the British Stamp Act of 1765 relieved him of his duty to pay taxes, that his case could only be heard by the Court of International Trade.

Posner was not amused.

"This stuff that you've been shoving at me for the last month about the Stamp Act and about the Sovereign Immunities Act and about the admiralty law and about the Uniform Commercial Code and about the common law," Posner said, was "complete bullshit."

"Pretty Unbuttoned"

Judge Posner was right, of course, but now El Bey claims that Posner went too far. Now represented by counsel, El Bey is appealing his conviction the grounds that Posner issued faulty jury instructions and created a "toxic atmosphere" that mandate a new trial, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports.

"Those biased statements by the district court infected the jury and infected this trial with such a prejudice that Mr. El Bey, regardless of the nature of evidence really, didn't stand a chance from the beginning," El Bey's attorney, Johanna M. Christiansen argued in the Seventh Circuit last week.

Posner's Seventh Circuit colleagues seemed somewhat sympathetic to that argument. Chief Judge Diane P. Wood described Posner's comments as "a pretty unbuttoned set of remarks," the Bulletin's Patricia Manson reports, and compared them to cases where judges "injected too much extraneous opinion" into proceedings.

"He's losing his temper and he's not conveying, let's say, the ideal courtroom demeanor," she said.

The Seventh Circuit should issue a ruling in the case in the coming months. Hopefully Judge Posner will not be assigned to oversee anymore sovereign citizen cases in the meantime. We're sure he wouldn't mind.

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