Friday, February 06, 2004

Today I received confirmation from the US Postal Service that my letter to Judge John McBryde, a petition in the style of earlier days of our republic, was signed for by Linda Runnels, who is listed as his Judicial Assistant. Until now, in addition to McBryde's office, it has only been seen by two other people (other than myself). Since it was intended as an open letter, I believe now is the appropriate time to share it with the rest of you.

Please read and consider. If you have any reaction to it, I'd love to hear from you.

Open Letter to Judge John McBryde re: Dick Simkanin

"Reason is the life of the law. Nay, the common law itself is nothing but reason."
--reported to be inscribed in your courthouse

Dear Sir,

The light of reason invites me to know the law, as you must, and I should, if you might see fit to open the door for me. Seeing that many sincere petitions toward this end -- to quite many "experts in the law" -- have been rebuked (when they are answered at all) with hot condescension as though the petitioners were but hapless simpletons (or worse), I have labored to fashion a worthy enough instrument that you might not despise my woeful lack of understanding, even though it be a self-chosen muckament (if that is what it is).

You have doubtless received plentiful attention over the Dick Simkanin case, with no end in sight, judging by the state of things so far since the verdict. I can only guess at the style of that attention within the ranks of those who share your view of "the nature of the tax situation", but, as one who does not, I am vividly aware of the conflagration of disgust toward you which has inflamed "my side" of the issue. Indeed I will admit to my share of it, but hope that you will nonetheless consider my message, which is sent in good faith with absence of malice, not as a judge, but in the simple mode of one man consulting with another. There is much to discuss.

We have never met, and I have not undertaken to research your career or anything else about you, so I can't say that I know you in any meaningful sense. However, scuttlebutt abounds. You have a reputation as "the IRS' man" in your area, I'm told. You reportedly are quite vigorous in your efforts to convict those who challenge the government over taxation issues. Some have said that you should have recused yourself from the Simkanin trial due to this reputation! If that is so, then apparently you must be considered quite the zealot in this area of law, and, in view of the accounts of the Simkanin trial, there seems little room for doubt.

If I might speculate toward you a bit from my ignorance, I would expect you view your efforts to eradicate the "erroneous" beliefs of Simkanin, et al, as something of a crusade to erase a blight from the land; that they are a disruptive influence on society and that it would be best if everyone would simply abandon them -- preferably voluntarily, but under duress if necessary. That, further, those who refuse to abandon them are working ill on the body politic, and deserve scorn and punishment, increasing in vigor until the errors are relinquished and the malady subsides. (Is not the best remedy for error simply the truth, illuminated? Doesn't the persistent failure of truth to eradicate an error suggest that perhaps neither actually is? But I may be too intrepid, and beg your pardon.)

In considering you thusly, I can't help but recall the story of Saul who became Paul. The implications of the comparison should be obvious in context so I won't insult you by enumerating them. Though I harbor no illusion that the mere mention of this will alter your perception, the parallels are plain, and I commend them to your contemplation, while begging your indulgence on a few more words to make my case.

Sir, though entirely beyond our designs or desires, a storm is building, conceived in ambition, cloaked in secrecy, born in arrogance, sustained by ignorance, sheltered by apathy, and now fed by such things as this very trial. Although I would not suppose you intended to, you have stoked its fury, and your actions cannot have had any other effect. While I anticipate that many will tell you so, I hope to clarify why it is so, in hopes that you may come to see the roots of its inevitability and the folly of ignoring them, as well as the gravity of the circumstances, which -- if you will again pardon me, for saying so -- I don't think you can have sufficiently realized. In the process, I have some questions, and I pray you to give them sober attention, so as to disencumber us both of any burden of mistake.

We are obviously awash with both truth and error, yet cannot seem to forge any agreement between our camps about which is which. Since the law is objective, standing mute above us all, its silent witness may be had by any, and surely the hope of pacification of the present tensions without clarification of the law holds no charm for the sober now. The fate of our legions is written in the law, both man's and God's; our own natures, and our respective circumstances as well, forbid our retreat from the conflict which must come, if we continue to stand at odds. Good men can hardly tolerate such a condition, and are naturally compelled to seek its rectification.

To it, then. What I would like from you, if you should find time to reply, is to know, originally and clearly, what Dick Simkanin's error was, so that its trap might be exposed before more fall prey to it. Indeed, I find myself examining the same issues which led him to you, and so it clearly behooves me to discover the precise nature of his transgression in order to avoid a similar fate ("there but for the grace of God go I," and may yet). Obedience to the civil law, so long as it is not in contravention of God's, is certainly the hallmark of a good citizen, but I find its pursuit frustrated by a conundrum; to wit:

It is certainly no crime to study the law; indeed, I would suppose the truth is nearly the opposite, and that you would agree. I further posit that it can be no crime to ask one's government for explanations or citations of law to establish a particular contended point, and that you would agree there too. So, while you are of course free to answer however seems right to you, I'll assume that I may proceed immediately farther.

If a citizen studies the law and finds that it appears -- to him -- to make no requirement of him to do a thing, but he is frivolously advised that the law does indeed require him to do it, what is he to do? Is it not proper to ask Where the law makes such a requirement? If he cannot find it, nor anyone to show it to him, how can he ascertain that the law actually makes that requirement? Is he to believe blindly that the requirement must exist in some unspecified place, simply because he is advised that it exists? If so, on what basis is his belief to be founded? That he has already seen it, but is merely too dull to comprehend the law in front of him? (But, even if that were granted, intelligent searchers have equally failed. Some, in fact, were in your courtroom for this trial!) That he has been granted the communion of angels, whose very words are beyond question? (This, I trust, needs no refutation.) I hazard that there is no possible foundation upon which to erect such a belief. Further, when such citizen encounters many other unsuccessful searchers who report that they, too, have all been frivolously assured that the requirement exists, what then is he to believe? When, in fact, he can find not one person anywhere who has ever found or been shown the requirement, despite hundreds or even thousands of requests for it, but does find many specious attempts having been made to establish the requirement by appealing to laws whose appearance of a requirement melt away upon careful examination, what exactly would you have occur in his mind? How is he to proceed from these discoveries to a confidence that the requirement exists, if not by being shown where it is? Can it be willed upon him by force of (others') desire? Beaten into him by blows, or created within him by derision? Can he be drawn to it by dispossession of property? Will he absorb it if it is written by implication on the walls of a prison, if he is allowed to steep long enough in it? Is there in fact any power remaining in the world capable of instilling that confidence in him, if it is not a discovery of the law in controversy? Sir, with respect, there plainly can be none. Knowledge of law comes only from reading it; all else is hearsay.

Having failed to locate any proof of requirement, what is our citizen to do next? He is arrived at the unenviable dilemma of choosing between two sorrowful options: he may either cravenly do as he is instructed by the (as yet frivolous!) orders of those supposed to be in power above him, or he may behave as a free man by striking his own course without regard to the (legally non-binding, according to his best understanding!) preferences of others -- but, in so doing, set himself up in the eyes of the multitude as in rebellion to that same power (though in reality he is in rebellion to nothing; rather, he is obeying the teaching of God that man should be free). Stinging disadvantages lurk on either path. Down the latter, he sacrifices the respect of public officials, the press, and likely some of his own associates and even family, immersing himself inexorably in a perpetual battle for even such common and elemental legal dignities as the presumption of innocence and the right to equal justice under, and due process of, the law; down the former he cannot but shed his very self-esteem, and with it, inevitably, the respect of all the others -- besides which, his rights in this case are given up at the outset. What terrible choice is that, and how can it be satisfactorily made, that demands from a man his very dignity regardless of the path chosen? Where there is, ultimately, no safe haven for him, and this due only to the actions others have taken regarding him without his consent, and deriving from no wrong committed by him? Where, if he surrenders, he forfeits his property, and if he fights, it is taken from him nonetheless, and perhaps more, with, apparently, the unmerciful approbation of society itself? Where the road of peace passes supinely under the boot of an arbitrary master in no wise superior to him, and the road of conflict into an existence where every shred of normalcy and security must be constantly defended from the inescapable reap-scythe of sudden illicit -- but privileged -- revocation? I say to you, sir, though you resist the truth of it, we are confronted here by a specter formerly thought long exorcised from our house, for it is the choice of a slave.

The mundanity of life continues apace, but be not deceived: this ugliness is immovable short of a direct confrontation of the inconvenient facts (I say inconvenient, and I mean to everyone, for we are fellow countrymen and the plight of one is the plight of all, though the extent of the problem still escapes most). Where a deficiency exists, it must be remedied, or it will rot out everything around it until the decay takes more from us than would have been required to fill the original cavity. This deficiency, as I believe it to be (and welcome you to prove me wrong!), and as it certainly is at least within many minds, has eaten away gradually at long-contended and hard-won prizes we would never relinquish instantly: our confidence in the governments and their officers and agencies, the protection of our rights to due process of law (inter alia), the tranquility of regulation among the people in their intercourses with government, the general amity to which neighbors are accustomed to feeling entitled by default. All these have fallen, or rather, been sacrificed under the duress of that formidable fear jealously guarding a terrifying admission: that we have, all of us, been utterly deceived by certain of our antecedents. Guard or no, that admission challenges you to approach, and have you just cause to remain withdrawn? If you have, sir, I implore you to share it; the need is exceedingly great, as our numbers grow daily, and we already, I think, shall not all fit at once inside your prison with Simkanin. If you have not, then by what subtle trail can you arrive at a view that the explorations of the bold ought rightly to be subjugated to the jeers of cowards? The fool may entertain delusions of superiority, but these afford him no shelter from the stern correcting-rod of experience, from which, if he persists in his errant ways, he must slink away into still less coherent fancies -- and in the matter at hand, sir, one or the other of us will surely be found a fool; the facts allow no other construction. This determination rests, not with force, but with facts. One of us is on the side of the facts, and one is not. Having no crystal ball, I can offer only the prediction that there will be no peace on this front while the truth and the lie remain confused, and that you, Mr. Justice sir, have an uncommon advantage over most of us in dispelling that confusion, should you take up the cause (the cause you may suppose yourself to already be pressing, but, if that were true, the issue would be clearer now, when all that has been made clear by this trial is that the present arrangement is untenable, unacceptable and patently repugnant to our cherished traditions). I can also say that, in the end, the truth always prevails, and that, however bitter the pill of repentance in the face of the status quo may taste, that of regret to those who resist the truth to the last will invariably prove the worse.

Naturally I presume you are already familiar, and quite likely overly so, with the story of Simkanin's various choices, and, while there are some which might prove worthy of investigation, I will leave it to you to summon them if you choose, so I will end there and await whatever reply you may offer.

I will add, on the matter of the trial, only that I find it amazing that you -- if I have not been misinformed -- told the jury, in response to an inquiry from them, that you had personally made the determination that Simkanin was required by law to withhold from his employees' pay. If you have, indeed, made that determination by law, I strongly believe you have a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to tell me and the rest of us dim-wits out here shivering in the chill fog of ignorance exactly how you made it! The ramifications of the alternate possibility are as self-evident as they are outrageous -- and, as I suspect you are already being told, they are also, by many, the increasingly preferred explanation (which is all the more reason why, if the rumor is true, you should, or even must, explain the lawful basis for your determination, and perhaps, in doing so, stave off the burgeoning tempest and restore the blessings of peace to us all).

In summary:

We have an old saying that "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." I submit to you that, absent being shown the law violated, Dick Simkanin can never be convinced that he violated the law; that his admission of guilt lies in wait not behind a bulkhead of willful ignorance, nor one of malintent, nor even one of obstinance, but one of integrity; that it mayhap be elicited by force (if your will exceeds his), but can never be accompanied by contrition, absent a revelation of the law. Only Simkanin can say if that's true of him, but, most assuredly, it is true of me. In matters of mala prohibita, my heart cannot regret what my mind cannot perceive to be forbidden. If absent a law, it isn't a crime, then if nobody can find the law, how can it be concluded forbidden? No amount of trials or verdicts can ever manufacture a law; only legislatures have that power. Public sentiment is not law; nobody is required to do what "everyone else" wants them to do simply because "everyone else" wants them to do it. Even "all the king's horses and all the king's men" are unable to add anything to the law; they may only provide the enforcement. A law, enacted by the people's congress, must declare it criminal, or it's not. These are well-established fundaments of our constitutional republican liberty, and, again, I trust you will affirm each one. Where, then, is the crime? What was Dick Simkanin's criminal error?

Sincerely, Earnestly, and Bewilderedly yours,


Jamie W. Jackson


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