BY DON DOIG
Court authorities around the country are getting touchy about FIJA's literature distribution efforts in front of courthouses, and have gone so far in two recent cases as to charge FIJA activists with jury tampering. Now really, FIJA literature distribution has nothing in common with jury tampering, which involves bribing or intimidating jurors in order to influence the outcome of a particular case. As long as the case being heard is not even mentioned by people distributing FIJA literature, the authorities don't have a legal leg to stand on. But since the conviction rate for victimless crimes is falling, apparently as a result of FIJA's educational efforts, the powers that be are getting desperate.
Jack Gerritsen of Los Angeles went to trial on felony jury tampering charges for handing out FIJA's "True or False?" brochures, and the jury hung 5 for acquittal and 7 for conviction. The prosecutor, after talking to the jury, decided he would be unable to seat a jury which would be willing to convict, so he dropped all charges! VICTORY!! The jury spent 3 days in deliberation. The group in favor of acquittal was led by a black lady. (See his letter of Sept. 3 reproduced in the letters section.) Jack had to put up $5,000 to the bail bondsman to cover the $50,000 bail, and he's out that amount. Contributions can be sent to Jack at 6217« Palm Ave, Bell, CA 90201.
Undaunted, Jack continues to distribute FIJA literature at the Criminal Courts Building, once or twice per week. One of the 60 courtrooms in this building houses the O.J. Simpson trial.
Former FIJA State Coordinator Frank Turney is facing felony jury tampering charges in Fairbanks, for encouraging jurors to call 1-800-TEL-JURY. Prosecutors in the Fairbanks area are reportedly becoming desperate that they can no longer get all the convictions they were used to, due to the large number of hung juries lately. The trial date has been set for December 5, though Frank is seeking a continuance to February.
The straw that broke the camel's back was supposedly a recent case in which a man, drunk in the privacy of his home, blasted his television and fish bowl. No one was injured. But since he was a convicted felon, technically he was not allowed to own a gun.
Frank gave FIJA information to five of the jurors, and others saw the 800-TEL-JURY number displayed and the result was an acquittal. Prosecutors went to the grand jury for a supposedly secret indictment of Frank, but word leaked out. The prosecutor admitted they were poking around in a privileged area, but that didn't stop him. Eight of the jurors were hauled before the grand jury, where some of them said that they had seen Frank's 1-800-TEL-JURY sign, and had called the number. They said this information influenced their verdict. One juror also said he saw a show on the Arts and Entertainment network which dealt with the Kevorkian trial, and which discussed jury veto power. (The A & E network had contacted FIJA HQ for information.) A tape of the 800-TEL-JURY message, which features Gary Dusseljee's voice, was recorded and played (and re-played 7 or 8 times) by the prosecutor for the grand jury! The grand jury hearing lasted for 3 days. Gary may be subpoenaed from California to testify.
The jurors were asked whether they were members of the NRA, or FIJA, and how many guns they had in their homes. They were also asked whether they went along with the judge's instructions, and were asked what went on during jury deliberations.
Some of the jurors were extremely upset, and juror Rick Ellis met with Frank, and went to the media with his complaints. Two jurors may file a civil suit against the court.
A data base on potential jurors has been established by local authorities, and a professional manager has been hired to ensure "well managed jurors".
The evidence which the prosecutor intends to introduce is simply the 800-TEL-JURY number, and presumably the tape recording made by the prosecutor. Whether he will also introduce a copy of the Jury Power Information Kit, which you get if you call the 800 number, is not known. Frank insists he never mentioned anything about any particular case while distributing literature, and he is not charged with doing so, though he did tell jurors to call the 800 number verbally. The judge placed a gag order on Frank, prohibiting him from discussing this "evidence" (!) with the media or anyone else, and kept him from coming within 2 blocks of the courthouse. On Sept. 22, the gag order was lifted.
Prior to the issuance of the gag order, Frank appeared on most local radio and television stations. He also put in an appearance every Monday and Tuesday in front of the courthouse, passing out FIJA literature. He gave literature to two grand jury members as they came out, and they in turn were questioned by the prosecutor. Many articles have appeared surrounding this controversy (see the collage section). Frank also has 3 signs up in the vicinity of the courthouse.
While the gag order was in effect, FIJA state Coordinator Don Burnett made numerous television and radio appearances, and gave interviews with the print media. He has also organized regular protests at the courthouse ("every Monday from now on"), including one on Jury Rights Day, which received excellent coverage. Don said he is under investigation himself.
Attorney Robert Sparks volunteered to do preliminary work on behalf of Frank, for which we are grateful. Mr. Sparks was not experienced in felony defense cases, so an attorney to handle the defense was sought. An enthusiastic attorney with the Alaska Department of Public Advocacy, John Franich, has stepped forward, prepared to fight the case on constitutional grounds. FIJA activist Jack Gerritsen from Los Angeles, himself the victim of unfounded jury tampering charges, called Frank to offer his support. (Jack's jury refused to convict him--see the California news.)