Don’t Fall for Legal Snake Oil

One of the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge attempted to file with the court a document stating a long set of defenses and a complaint against the government seeking exorbitant damages. Unfortunately for her, it showed a poor understanding of law and suggested that she believed she could find a way to disrupt the legal system. This is an occasional problem that shows up in a wide variety of legal situations, ranging from criminal cases to foreclosures and collections to family disputes to tax disputes.

Another high-profile Oregon case from a few years ago that raised similar issues involved several prominent initiative sponsors. When a creditor tried to collect on a judgment, they objected to the judges’ authority to oversee enforcement proceedings. In that case, there was at least a question that some people might think worth raising: the form of the judge’s oath that the Secretary of State had issued mistakenly omitted a phrase from the form prescribed in the state constitution. None of the challenges, however, were sustained. At least one judge responded by retaking the oath; others simply ruled that the error was not significant.

I first encountered similar disputes when I was still in law school. An internet discussion group on legal issues was invaded by someone who made a series of bizarre claims and through his obnoxious behavior, single-handedly prompted the group to vote to appoint a moderator. Among the more eye-catching arguments were that one could opt out of the Social Security system by sending a letter to the Social Security Administration and that one could get out of traffic tickets by signing the ticket “All rights reserved.” All of it was, even to non-lawyers participating, obviously wrong. I also have seen papers posted on a courthouse bulletin board claiming to give public notice of attempts to opt out of the system.

Other arguments that are commonly seen are that a gold fringe around a flag signifies admiralty court (it doesn’t); that people can only be subjected to the court if they agree (again wrong); that it is possible to foist a contract on someone by sending it to the other person with a deadline to respond (in most cases, an affirmative acceptance or use of the benefits offered is required), and that everyone has a secret account with the Treasury that can be tapped with the right procedure (a classic money for nothing scheme). One strange case involved someone who claimed that his Social Security number created a trust for unidentified property, which he then tried to resolve the title to by suing himself. When the court said no, he appealed, unsuccessfully. (I’m not making that up.)

There are many indications that you are dealing with someone who is trying similar arguments. These include strange forms of their name (using colons and hyphens is common, as is insisting that all capitals differs from upper and lower case); claiming the government is a corporation; reliance on the Uniform Commercial Code in non-commercial situations (such as the “all rights reserved” argument); claims to follow God’s law or some similar higher authority; and claims to be a “natural person” who is not responsible for a “juristic person’s” actions. All of these may be good warning signs.

A common variation is the “sovereign citizen” claim. This effectively is an attempt to exempt oneself from obligations to the government by claiming to be a separate, self-governing state, or a citizen of some other entity than the United States. It does not, however, exempt one from the system. People who claim to be sovereign citizens often tend to have a fixation on possessing firearms and the movement has attracted FBI attention as a result of violent confrontations.

Many of the attempts to defeat the legal system are peddled online or in seminars. Be forewarned if you see one of them. They have never managed to succeed in any reported case. It’s a fraud. Don’t fall for it.

If you think you’re dealing with someone who has fallen for the fraudsters, and you go to court, they’re likely to try to disrupt the proceedings. Fortunately, the courts are generally becoming aware of the problem, and most judges show little patience with the arguments.

For further reading, I suggest a very long opinion from a Canadian case that describes and refutes most common arguments, point by point, <;, and several sections of “Quatloos! Cyber Museum of Scams & Frauds,” <>, <>, and <;.


3 Responses to Don’t Fall for Legal Snake Oil

  1. Hi Daniel –

    Good post! A few suggestions: “hew” should be “few”; “except” should be “exempt”. 🙂

  2. And here’s a recent story about someone who got caught trying the get-rich-quick scheme. He was indicted by a federal grand jury.

  3. The latest strange incident to come to my attention involved a police officer representing himself ina foreclosure suit. He attempted to arrest the judge in open court.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: