CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., March 14 — Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom today turns a state law in Tennessee on transportation into a bill of attainder against a soft-spoken handyman who asks a sheriff’s deputy if he was “on his oath” the day the officer arrested him for traveling in his car.
The hearing in the county corporation court in downtown Chattanooga is part of a pattern of abuse by Sheriff Jim Hammond with Tennessee courts. She determines that legal conclusions uttered as testimony on the stand by a deputy are sufficient factual evidence to send the case to the grand jury.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
Jon Luman goes twice out into the milling and crowded foyer outside court to meet with David Schmidt, representing state prosecutor Neal Pinkston. “He asked me if I wanted to have a preliminary hearing or a bench trial, and I said no I don’t want a bench trial, I want a jury trial. But I want a preliminary hearing to see the evidence that my activity was commercial, that I was engaged in the commercial activity of driving. I’d like to see that evidence, I’d like to hear it.”
Mr. Schmidt is one of a dozen candidates for sessions court judge, the naming of which is in the hands of the county commission at the announced retirement of Judge Clarence Shattuck. Sessions judges act effectively as extensions of the city and county police-industrial complex that denies the distinction between travel and transportation and helps the judiciary abrogate the troublesome constitutional right of free travel and free communication under the Tennessee bill of rights.
The system operates so much on personality and custom that the codified law that is its ostensible basis seems less solid than the wreath of cigarette smoke curling afterwards from the lips of a frustrated Mr. Luman. The system’s creakiness is evidenced by the lack of any written charging instrument that might be afforded Mr. Luman — an accounting of the state laws he’s alleged to have violated with citations to the Tennessee code annotated. To get notice about charges is an essential part of due process that is thwarted in the sessions court evidentiary hearing.
Mr. Schmidt has nothing in writing, but he has a noisy discussion with Mr. Luman outside of court upholding state policy of criminalizing users of the public freeway as a class unless they have entered into a privileged status as licensee.
Haggling over offenses in open public
Anything he says can and will be used against him, Mr. Schmidt says. (How is that true if Mr. Luman, the negotiator in a plea bargain as a pro se, is distinct Mr. Luman, the person and the accused?)
Mr. Schmidt goes on. Mr. Luman has a right to a trial and to have arguments proven against him without reasonable doubt. Any concerns about your constitutional rights? Mr. Schmidt asks in what sounds like a justice- and law-oriented preliminary to the dickering over the state’s peace and tranquility.
He says the state cites Mr. Luman for “no license” or “having a revoked license. *** Do you know for sure it is revoked? Are you able to get your license back, to get your status back?” Mr. Luman says he is not interested in getting his license back.
But you have to have a license, the prosecutor says. “Here’s the situation. Driving is not a right, it is a state privilege,” he says. “The bottom line is, if you drive in Tennessee, you need to have a license. That is the bottom line, That is the law. I don’t make them.”
Mr. Schmidt pulls out a piece of paper that Mr. Luman has not seen. He reads lines from the sworn statement by Mr. Hammond’s deputy, Timothy Denton. The officer has “firsthand experience,” Mr. Schmitt says. “We’re not getting anywhere,” booms Mr. Schmitt. “We’ll just get you in there now.”
“The fact that you drive a car in Tennessee, you need a license. If you don’t like that [inaudible]. Because you were driving, you were involved in a commercial activity and you have to have a license in Tennessee.” ‡
Mr. Schmidt keeps saying making a legal argument, pretending it is fact, using the phrase “the fact that you were driving” and “you were driving.”
“The state merely has to prove you were driving, regardless of the reason you were driving. You were behind the wheel, you were directing the vehicle, and the officer saw you. This should prove you were driving. Have a seat. Go ahead and have a seat. We will call you. We will see you inside.”
The courtroom for the 8:30 docket for sessions is crowded with 60 people in the gallery and more than a dozen witnesses, CPS workers, DA officials, defense lawyers, cops, deputies and others. Sessions court in Hamilton County gets 50,000 cases a year and is the lubricating mechanism bringing efficiency to the American state-based policing and prison industries.
Judge Statom calls Mr. Luman’s name and he, with a white mustache an wearing jeans and a nondescript pullover, stands before her.
Before they begin, a bit of antiseptic spray is nozzled upon the counter to prevent anyone from getting the flu.
Judge Statom says he is being charged with driving revoked, no insurance and a registration violation. Is it true he has no attorney, and doesn’t wish to have one?
She asks him to sign a waiver of counsel form. He bends over to ink his name, a black notebook tucked under his left arm.
Waiver of counsel form sign. He is asked to sign form, and he signs it.
Schmitt up there, the deputy with the bald head, the court officer and on the right Jon with his jeans and sneakers and a folder tucked under his arm.
This is a preliminary hearing, for probable cause she says of Mr. Luman’s arrest off highway 58. The district attorney has to prove probable cause for this arrest, she says. If there is probable cause, she will bind it over the grand jury and it will determine if there was probable cause. If so, will go to crim court and she will be arraigned and advised formally of the charges against him.
Mr. Luman burbles, nods.
The officer — bald and beefy as are many today across the country — raises hand to swear.
Judge Statom says Mr. Luman he doesn’t have to testify. But he raises his hand, too, to bind his testimony by oath before God.
Among the statements by the officer, made in a hushed tone, is this one: “I observed you driving.”
What did the officer see?
Mr. Luman does not object to this testimony as he should, seeing that it is conclusory and a legal argument rather than an eyewitness statement.
“My first question and main question was, was he on his oath that day, Jan. 3rd, and his answer was yes. The second question was how he went about, or what authority he had to make the determination that I was driving as opposed to just traveling, as anybody has a right to to, any member of the public. That questioning everybody seemed to act like that just didn’t understand that, you know.
“What I was driving at, how did you make the distinction and what authority do you have to make that determination, so that just go unanswered. I don’t think he answered anything. The judge interrupted, and the district attorney first objected to the question on relevance which I think is highly relevant. But then the judge interrupted when I rephrased it.”
The judge rules there is enough evidence against Mr. Luman. “To me, there is no evidence at all.” The officer’s barely heard testimony — that Mr. Luman was moving in his Ford Explorer, on the public street, behind the wheel and in control “of the vehicle” — “is no evidence at all,” avers Mr. Luman in an interview.
“What he is saying is, everybody in Tennessee, if they get behind the wheel of a car and [use] it, they are driving, and therefore the bill of attainder, known as the transportation code, applies to everybody in Tennessee.”
In other words, Mr. Luman explains, one is guilty under Title 55 of “driving” by the virtue of having one’s bottom in the car’s seat, one’s foot on the gas pedal, one’s hands on the steering wheel, and one’ contraption moving forward on its four rubber tires on the public tarmac.
The question of fact remaining to be determined is whether the traveler has the proper privileged status as evidenced by a driver license.
Earlier charges dismissed
The officer indicates he arrested Mr. Luman because he had a record of similar charges. But these two earlier cases — one of them filed by Red Bank police — were dismissed. It’s not clear why Judge Statom doesn’t bring up the earlier case with Mr. Luman and dismiss with a cursory wave of her judicial palm.
“She is the very same judges who dismissed the very same exact charges on Nov. 26,” Mr. Luman growls.
Mr. Luman’s car is parked in the next block at the first parking meter. On the back is a legal notice to the public and to police. It says, “Private traveler[;] Not for hire.”
Sherif Hammond is under transportation administrative notice about the distinction between travel and transportation (aka driving and operating). Neither he nor county attorney Rheubin Taylor has rebutted publicly its claims, and so they have legally acquiesced in its analysis — a defense of the private use of the public’s paved rights of way, and so can be arguably shown in criminal complaint or civil litigation to have acted maliciously, in bad faith, tortiously and within the scope of the state’s pro-people anti-oppression statute.
‡ This statement, a tautology, is worth treasuring. It shows just how far the honorable profession of attorney has sunk in being unable to see and defend the people and their rights, whether from public or private abusers.