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Your advice: Possible change of events in Syracuse Oct 9th.

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From: John Murtari (jmurtari@AKidsRight.Org)
Date: Sat Oct 04 2003 - 18:00:30 EDT

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Good People & People of Faith:

How do you put into practice the precepts of NonViolent Action?  Someone
who is close to what is happening in Syracuse told me, "John, enough is
enough, you have made your point that you care, everyone respects you
for that -- but if you keep the action up, you are going to jail for a
while.  You should stop."

I'd like to start with a brief introduction using what was posted at the
web site a few days ago.

--------- Site excerpt: (http://www.AKidsRight.Org/actionc_syr)
When I returned to the building on the 1st, the plan was to also visit
the building on the following week (Oct 9th).  During my arraignment
Magistrate DiBianco was clear in his desire to get all these pending
arrests processed.  A trial date was set for October 23rd, starting at
10am . . .  I was also told that if I returned to the building prior to
the trial date, that I would be jailed until the trial date.

. . . After watching all the pain my son has been through and how our
rights were trampled -- is jail supposed to be a deterrent?  What else
can be taken from me?  No one is "taking my freedom" the way they "took
my child"'; I am willing to sacrifice it to show how important reform
is.  Jail is going to "hurt", but is it a "bad/evil" consequence?  No.
I'm a parent acting not with anger or malice toward anyone, but with
good intention. Peacefully demonstrating the depth of my love for my
child and the depth of my belief in reform -- I have Faith only good
things can happen....

We may be approaching an important change in what has been happening.  I
need some advice and I know many people are new to the group since all
this began. The web site has pages of details, but this is an attempt to
do "catch up" in one message! This message is LONG.

I do plan on returning to the building this Thursday (Oct 9th at
1:30PM). That is an easy decision.  It is consistent with our original
goals, to help convince Senator Clinton that family law reform is an
important issue, a Civil Rights issue -- and there are loving parents
willing to sacrifice their freedom to see that right recognized.

Here's what I'm really struggling with, what to do in Court?  This has
been a "bench" proceeding, i.e. what I am being charged with does not merit
a jury trial -- so Federal Magistrate DiBianco alone decides my guilt or
innocence.  The standard is still "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Let me give all of you a brief "recap" of the last few years (this
material is also at the web site: http://www.AKidsRight.Org/events.htm).

---- Experience at the Onondaga County Courthouse, Syracuse NY.

When my son Domenic was relocated to the other side of the country I was
finally prompted to action.  I began with carrying a picture of Dom and
I in the halls of the County Courthouse (on the floor where family
courts were located).  I was well dressed, courteous, and quiet.  If
people asked me what I was doing I would explain.  There was a series of
about 3 arrests and several nights in jail.  Finally, an exasperated
City Court Judge Merrill told me, "Mr. Murtari, I see you again I'm
going to hold you in contempt and jail you for a year."  I really didn't
know if he could do all that, but I was back at the Courthouse a few
days later...

To my great surprise, the Sheriff's deputies backed off, they let me
proceed.  I could hear them telling local Court staff, "The Judge says
leave him alone."  And so, for a period of several months (pictures at
the above link), I would walk around the Courthouse halls for a couple
of hours a day....  The same Judge eventually dismissed all the pending
charges against me with the words, "You don't lose your right to free
speech when you walk through the metal detector."  Imagine that!

THREE amazing things during that experience:

1. There was a member of Court Security, Joe, who would harass me almost
every day as I walked by his station, "John, get out of here, we don't
have time for people like you, go someplace else..." -- I wouldn't
respond, just smile and walk by.  One day when things were quiet, he
finally asked me, "John, why are you here?" I explained in the same way
I told everyone else.  "I love my son, I wanted to be an equal parent.
I didn't seem to matter and they relocated him..."

2. The group had sent out a lot of news releases to local media. They
never called.  As I would walk the halls I would walk by some of the TV
reporters who were there covering other stories.  They would look at me a
bit mystified (but it didn't appear to be newsworthy).   One day, Joe
from Court Security was in the vicinity.  He yelled over at some of the
reporters, "Why don't you guys come over here and take a picture of John.
He's doing this because 'they' took his son away..."   Imagine that!

3. Finally I realized Judge Merrill had made a smart move. I could walk
all I wanted, no arrest.  If I wanted to see him again I would have to
escalate my actions to something more provocative.  I decided against
that.  You have a lot of time to think when you walk around a courthouse
for two hours a day.  I realized Judges don't write the laws, they just
help enforce them. This valued right needed the recognition and
protection of the Congress of the United States (where the will of the
people can be made manifest). I said goodbye to many of the staff, and a
few of the Sheriff's deputies who had watched me over the weeks said,
"John, we got a lot of respect for you. It was a class act. Good luck."

---- Experience at the Hanley Federal Building, Syracuse NY

I next went over to the Federal Building and began a similar effort. The
focus became more clear.  Letter writings and meetings had gotten some
"sympathy" from Congressional staff, but no action.  I began the same
effort in the hall outside their offices.

Again, there were a series of arrests.  Charges would start with
trespass, sometimes a Judge would issues a "stay away" order from the
building, I would then be charged with "criminal contempt" when I went
back.  It was my policy never to pay bail (I could never afford to
keep doing that).  The Federal police/security would hold me, but I
would normally be arrested and charged by the City Police.

Many times the Police officer would walk me out of the building in
handcuffs and then say, "Okay John, trespass is just a violation (a
traffic ticket).  I'm going to give you a ticket with a court date and
let you go." [Normally, when you see the 'stars' on TV getting arrested
by police, they are pretty quickly released, and many times the single
charge will just be dismissed at a later date.]  But I would tell them,
"Officer, you let me go, I'm heading right back there to continue my
effort."  They would bring me in and I would be held overnight until
arraignment the next morning.

Through these early incidents I was represented by a veritable Perry
Mason as my assigned counsel.  Mr. Charles Keller, now a professor at
the Syracuse University Law School, at that time head of the Criminal
Division for the Hiscock Legal aid society.  As one of the deputies once
told me, "John, that guy really swings the bat for you."  He would argue
my innocence and the clear unconstitutionality of the "stay away"
orders.  He had over 30 sets of charges dismissed, not a single
conviction.  Imagine that!

Then, for a couple of months. I was actually allowed to walk the halls in
the Federal Building.  Sometimes people would come up to watch or talk
for a while.  One day I was outside the offices and Congressman James Walsh
actually walked by in the hall.  I just nodded my head and said hello. He
did not stop to talk.

---   Current Events

At this time Senator Clinton's office was on the first floor of the
building and the lobby area was a poor place to walk in petition.  She
then moved to the 14th floor and I began an effort outside her offices.

There was also a change in attitude by Federal authorities.  They
finally decided they would prosecute me themselves.  In July of 2002 I
went to the building with three other people.  They went to drop off
some petitions at her office while I walked in the hall.  I was arrested
as before.

The US Attorneys office originally charged me with violating the
building rules, but then amended their complaint to include "disorderly
conduct" caused by our congregating in the building halls.  Which just
did not happen.  The other three group members had just walked by me on
their way to/from the office.

It came to a trial in October of 2002, details (including documents) at

During the trial the Judge was forced to find me not guilty of building
rules violations, but found me guilty of disorderly conduct (which was
just amazing).  I did 10 days in jail last year. With that "win" the US
Attorneys office was able to get the Judge to issue a very broad "stay
away" order for me (see link above). Which was clearly the goal.  From
then I could be charged with violating that order. The order prohibited
"marching, picketing, or protesting" -- which I don't do anyway
according to common definitions of those words. I'm there to "petition"
Senator Clinton to help us. Those are the words I carry with our
pictures.  They did not appear to want to prohibit efforts to "petition
my Member of Congress."

During this time I also asked for the dismissal of my assigned counsel
for not keeping me informed and attempting to give up my right to a
trial without even asking me.  The Magistrate removed counsel, but
denied my request for another lawyer.  I was on my own.


On October 1st when I went to the building their was a bit of
change. Instead of allowing me to go upstairs and start my efforts,
Federal Police asked me if I was there to protest.  I told them I was
there to "petition my Member of Congress for reform".  They said that
was against the Judges order and arrested me.

I was then arraigned by Magistrate DiBianco and the US Attorney
described me as someone who did not care about the law and was thumbing
my nose at the Judges order. Especially since my first level of appeal
had been denied. (My first level of appeal was to a local US District
Judge and an affirmation was expected. The next level of appeal will be
to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals.)  He said he didn't really
have a reason to jail me pending trial (he acknowledged I was no threat
and would surely make all court dates), but I was causing a lot of work
for the system.

With courtesy I explained to the Judge that I was "innocent" of the
pending charge and also that the "stay away" order was too broad and did
not have a sound foundation.  I was certainly not guilty of "disorderly
conduct."  There was one pending charged which involved just me alone
and which occurred prior to the other trial.  I wanted that to be brought
to trial first as most representative of the conduct which has been at

The Judge responded by telling me he was going to set a trial date for
all these matters of Oct. 23 (I also asked him again for counsel and he
was going to think about that.)  He also told me that if he saw me again
before the trial date, he would hold me in jail until trial...

I have to say that I began to feel like I was in Family Court and we
were moving toward a predetermined outcome.  It is obvious the Judge
feels I should not be allowed to petition in the building, but the
Building Rules did not provide enough justification for an arrest.  I'm
beginning to really think he felt that a "conviction" and a little jail
would send me a message (even if I wasn't really guilty), and I would
learn my lesson and go away.  He has dealt with other "protesters" in
the past and that seems to be what happens.

--- Some Questions, your thoughts.

1. Do you have a moral obligation to obey an order that is not "valid."?

Many times we don't bother to fight, i.e. you get a traffic ticket for
rolling through a stop sign.  You know you stopped, but you still get
to pay the fine.  I guess most of us pay, it is just not worth the hassle.
We don't live in a perfect world.

But what about a big matter?  We often use the fight against segregation
in the south.  If a black man had peacefully sat in the front of a bus to
demonstrate his belief in his equality (which many did) -- are they morally
"foul" for disobeying orders that might have enjoined them from doing that?

2.  On Wednesday the officers arrested me before I even did anything. I
have gone upstairs, had an emergency call on my cell phone and left that
The "stay away" order prohibits certain actions -- do you arrest me even
I say I am there to "petition"?

3. Can a Federal Magistrate hold you in jail pending a trial as a form of
immediate punishment?

4. THE BIG ONE - when I return there on Thursday do I continue to
strongly assert my innocence (which I can tell angers the Magistrate and
the US attorney, I think they are also frustrated because they know they
don't really have a "good" conviction.  But are trying to justify it by
the 'good' goal they have.)?  Do I just keep my mouth shut?  What about
turn the other cheek:

I don't know why, but the "hard" path is usually the right path.  I
would like to talk my head off in there.  Should I?  Do I have a duty to
assert the truth?  Obviously in these "politically correct" times, if
someone hits you on the cheek you are suppose to explain to them how
much it hurt you (in case they didn't realize that).  Instead of
offering them your other cheek (and encouraging their foul behavior),
shouldn't you give them the phone number of an anger management class?
If they are a child, tell them to use their "words", not their "fists."
Come on -- didn't Jesus know this stuff back then!

Part of me thinks it might be simplest just to say. "Your honor, I am
innocent.  I have nothing more to say."  Of course, if I do that through
any pending trial that will also anger them?

5. Your predictions?

Please, I welcome your feedback.  Make it quick, I will try to share it
with others on the list before Thursday. And please, don't be upset if I
don't take your advice, I'm Italian -- we give advice, we don't take it!

ALSO, and most sincerely.  I really welcome those of you who can make it
to the Syracuse Federal Building on Thursday afternoon. I would love to
meet you before I go into the building at about 1:30PM -- you are
allowed to be present if there is an arraignment.  It would certainly
mean a lot to me.

John Murtari

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