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DA says travel-transportation distinction frivolous, made by ‘mentally ill’

Brent Cooper in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., prosecutes all users of the road who don’t have valid driver licenses as his “constitutional duty.” (Photo YouTube)
Jay Hirsch, the “fiddle man of Lawrence County” plays an uplifting tune at a funeral in Westpoint, Tenn. (Photo David Tulis)

A district attorney in Lawrence County in Middle Tennessee says there is no distinction between travel and transportation, and argues that all travel is transportation and all users of the road are, effectively, carriers, even if they don’t meet the legal definition of carrier. 

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

Brent Cooper is the prosecutor of the state’s interests against the liberties of communication in his part of Tennessee. He indicates he cannot freely carry his young daughters on family business in his car without a driver license. Liberty of movement on the public right of way doesn’t exist as a matter of law, he says, and to argue for unlicensed travel by car in the state is evidence of being “mentally ill.”

Mr. Cooper is discussing his encounters with Arthur J. Hirsch, the devout “Fiddle Man of Lawrence County” whom his office has troubled for years despite Mr. Hirsch’s ministry to the elderly, to prisoners and to businesses he serves as a private entrepreneur. Mr. Hirsch says he has had enough of Mr. Cooper’s misleading the grand jury and misrepresenting the scope of Title 55, the state motor vehicle law Mr. Cooper uses against Mr. Hirsch like a club.

David Tulis. I understand that there are claims being made in court by Arthur J. Hirsch on [your] judicial ethics.

District attorney Brent Cooper. OK. OK. I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen whatever the most recent thing is. But, uh. Mr. Hirsch is known for this type of thing, yeah.

David. He says, one thing — as I’m remembering because I don’t have it in front of me — that things sent to the grand jury have been blocked that explain the scope of Title 55, the transportation statute. Because his cases — the case you are prosecuting is a case under 55 — isn’t it?

Brent Cooper. Probably. Usually, if it is involving him, it’s because he’s driving without a valid license, or on a suspended license, yeah. 

David. Well, he’s saying — his filings indicate that he is not driving, he is exercising a right to travel, and he is saying his suspended license is fraudulent. He’s gone to the grand jury with that, too, is that correct?

Brent Cooper. Yeah.

David. Has he done that?

Brent Cooper. Uh, I don’t know. But I would, if he has, I would expect the grand jury to probably not do anything. I mean, just. My opinion is: His claims are ridiculous.

David. Well, can you explain that to me? What is the issue? What is the problem, sir?

Brent Cooper. He is creating his own law. That’s the problem. Uh. His claim that he is just exercising his right to travel is not a valid legal claim. The law is well settled, that if you are going to travel on the highways and the roads in the state of Tennessee or any other state you are going to have a valid license, and he refuses to comply with that law, and he claims he doesn’t have to comply with that law, and in my opinion he is mentally ill.

‘Ridiculous, fraudulent claim’

David. He is making a distinction between travel and transportation, and Title 55 —

Brent Cooper. That’s ridiculous. 

David. That’s ridiculous?

Brent Cooper. That’s a ridiculous, fraudulent claim. 

David. All right. You are saying you are prosecuting him is not unethical, but is proper and just under the statute?

Brent Cooper. If I am prosecuting him, it’s because I’m upholding my constitutional duty, uh, to enforce the laws of the state of Tennessee.

David. OK. And, uh, so, I think another point as I’m recalling how has been going on three years? Is that correct, sir, Mr. Cooper?

Brent Cooper. Uh. I’m sure he’s had cases going back at least that far. I know he filed a lawsuit against me and other people on the same claim, over six years ago. So, I don’t know if this is a new claim or if he is just revising old claims from years ago. But, yeah, I am not surprised at all to hear that Mr. Hirsch is making these claims.

David. Did he sue you, and is he saying you can’t prosecute him yourself because you are somehow biased against him having been the target of a civil claim in — was it in federal court?

Brent Cooper. Uh, I don’t know. Like I said. I haven’t seen any documents or any pleadings that he’s talking about at this time. So I don’t know what he is claiming exactly, because I was named in an earlier lawsuit, but, I mean, I — again, that would be a frivolous claim, because as we talk right now I don’t even know personally whether or not we have an open case against him. So, if I was biased against him, you would think I’d be aware of any case we had against him.

David. I got a copy of a motion to dismiss for fraud. It has — I don’t know if it’s been [clerk file] stamped or not. But it’s 36138 is the case number. And he’s saying that you have, he says you have “knowingly, intentionally and in bad faith concealed verified exculpatory evidence from the grand jury.” And I think the nature of that evidence is the nature of the statute, that 55 is aimed at shippers, truckers and haulers and carriers, and not —

Brent Cooper. Yeah.

David. — everybody on the road is a carrier, he is saying. Lemme ask you this: Are you a carrier right now — sounds like you are in your car?

Brent Cooper. Yes, I’m a driver and a carrier because I am operating a motor vehicle on the highway of the state of Tennessee, legally, because I have a valid license to do so. At the same time, I am carrying my two daughters somewhere to be kept today while I am at work.

David. Yes, sir. Well, I think, I think that this document that makes that distinction in some detail says that while you may be, y’know, you may be traveling with a licence, the fact that you are not carrying anyone for hire and that these are occupants and not passengers would mean that the act you are involved in right now, Brent, in the car, is not transportation, but you are simply moving your personal effects and property —

Brent Cooper. Yeah, I would say, I would say that’s a frivolous distinction that Mr. Hirsch or someone has come up with that is not based on any valid legal premise.

David. OK. So, I need to understand: You’re saying that you cannot be on the road without a driver’s license. Is that correct?

Even travel requires license

Brent Cooper. You can’t operate a motor vehicle on the road without a driver license.

David. So that means no car can be on the road without a driver’s license.? No one in a car, moving that car, can be there traveling without a driver’s license because one must be involved as a carrier? Is that kinda the position you are taking?

Brent Cooper. No, I’m not making a distinction between carrier or not. I’m making a distinction that if you are operating a motor vehicle on a public highway, then you must have, legally, you must have a valid driver license.

David. OK.

Brent Cooper. That’s the law in the state of Tennessee, as I understand it.

David. I guess the question I want to find out from you is, is it possible to be on the road and not be an operator of a motor vehicle, but be moving — ?

Brent Cooper. — Look. David, I’m sorry. I have other things to do than to engage with this colloquy with you. Have a good day.

The Tulis Report is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

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