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Frequent critic again barred from Vermont courts

By The Associated Press

07.29.02

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — Scott Huminski wants to run for Bennington County state's attorney, but he might have a bit of a problem if he's elected: He's barred from going to the courthouse.

That's because Huminski is under a highly unusual no-trespass order that he stay away from every courthouse in the state. The order was issued after Huminski, a self-described citizen-reporter and frequent critic of the judicial system, parked his truck outside the courthouse in Rutland with signs on it criticizing a judge.

Huminski challenged the order, saying he had a First Amendment right to post on his truck a sign saying "Judge (Nancy) Corsones: Butcher of the Constitution."

A major Washington law firm agreed to take his case free-of-charge, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression filed a brief supporting his appeal. A federal judge reversed the state's no-trespass order for a time, but now that judge, J. Garvan Murtha of the U.S. District Court for Vermont, has lifted his earlier order. And the state, at least for now, is free to enforce it's no-trespass order against Huminski.

Huminski's lawyer, Robert Corn-Revere, is appealing Murtha's ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with the first goal being reinstatement of the bar on the state enforcing the no-trespass order.

The state's top election official, Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, advised that Huminski pursue his goals one step at a time.

"Running for office does not require him to go to the courthouse," she said. "In the event that he wins, that's the next bridge to cross. At that point he would be able to go to court and make an argument to lift the ban."

Huminski said he might have trouble persuading voters he's a good candidate for state's attorney if he's currently facing a ban on going to the place where that job is performed. "The ban itself is an obstacle to my election," he said.

Huminski, 42, has been engaged in a one-man protest against the judicial system for the past decade. He was charged with obstruction of justice in a civil case; prosecutors later agreed to drop that charge if Huminski paid $100 in court costs.

After that plea agreement was put in place, Huminski's wife sued the Bennington County state's attorney in federal court, and that office sought to reinstate the obstruction-of-justice charge, saying the federal suit violated the terms of the plea agreement.

Corsones granted the motion to reinstate the charge, a decision later reversed by another judge, who said it would violate Huminski's constitutional right against facing punishment for the same crime twice — so-called double jeopardy.

But Huminski intensified his protests against the court system, parking his van outside the courthouse in Bennington with signs criticizing State's Attorney William Wright and his staff.

In May 1999, he took his protest to Rutland, where Corsones was presiding in the District Court, and posted signs on his van critical of her. That prompted an order that he leave the courthouse property and follow-up orders authorized by the court administrator's office in Montpelier and the state Department of Buildings and General Services that effectively barred Huminski from court- and state-owned property across Vermont.

In March 2001, Murtha granted Huminski's request for a preliminary injunction — an order barring the state from enforcing the no-trespass orders. In issuing the orders, the state "specifically and unjustifiably retaliated against Huminski because he had exercised his constitutional right to free speech," the judge wrote.

But in an order issued earlier this month, Murtha found that it was not an open-and-shut case. He denied both the state's and Huminski's lawyers' requests that the case be decided in their favor without going to trial. And he lifted the ban on enforcing the no-trespass orders.

The judge found there was "a genuine factual dispute" in the case — a dispute over whether Corsones and other officials at the Rutland court feared for their safety when Huminski parked his truck with its critical signs outside and entered the building.

Huminski and Corn-Revere argue that the court and state officials' concerns about security are not genuine. They said it was nearly two years after Huminski filed suit before officials even raised security as a concern.

The court and state officials named in Huminski's lawsuit — two judges, the court clerk, the county sheriff and the Rutland city police — cited two letters Huminski sent to the attorney general's office several months before the confrontation in May 1999.

In one, Huminski angrily denounced Vermont's judicial system and said he "must take the law into my own hands and initiate activities that will get national media attention."

In the other, he complained again of the state's treatment of him and wrote, "I believe my future activities will prevent the state from engaging in this behavior ever again."

Huminski noted the letters said nothing to indicate his "future activities" would entail anything aside from pursuing federal court action and seeking publicity about his case, and so far, they haven't.

Previous

Federal court raps Vermont judges for violating protester's free-speech rights
Decision emphasizes that ‘local governmental officials cannot brush aside the First Amendment whenever they find it to be inconvenient,’ attorney says.  03.05.01

Related

Journalist barred from Vermont courts files federal appeal
Self-described citizen-reporter punished for criticizing state judge is asking court to reinstate his lawsuit against a city and several officials.  03.21.00

The silencing of a courtroom critic
Ombudsman Scott Huminski is what you might call a 'citizen-reporter.' Until a year ago, he was a constant and careful observer of court proceedings in Rutland, Vt., passing on to the public his thoughts about judges and their rulings.  03.21.00

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