Florida Common Law Court
The Orlando Sentinel, Wednesday, July 2, 1997
TAMPA—An Orlando federal magistrate demanded protection after an anti-government group sent him documents accusing him of treason, an assistant U.S. attorney testified Tuesday.
"He was extremely distraught," assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Jancha said of the 1995 incident involving now- retired magistrate Donald Dietrich. "He wanted to know what steps would be taken to protect him and his wife."
Prosecutors say Dietrich was one of several Orlando- area public officials threatened by members of the self- styled Common Law Court, which asserted that other courts had no authority.
Eight members of the group, including four Central Florida residents, have been on trial for more than a month on charges of obstruction of justice and extortion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ernest Peluso contends that the group sent fear through jurors, judges and prosecutors by sending bogus arrest warrants and contempt citations accusing them of treason—a crime punishable by death.
Defense lawyers contend their clients were exercising their free-speech rights by complaining about the court system and never intended to carry out their threats.
The defendants from Central Florida are Jack Wade Warren, 47, of Orlando, Laurent J. Moore, 51, of Orlando, Charles Dunnigan, 46, of Clermont, and Richard "Toby" Brown, 54, of Winter Garden.
The trial is being held under tight security at the federal courthouse. Two of the defendants, Warren and Emilio Ippilito [sic] of Tampa, are watching it from a closed- circuit television in jail after being removed for outbursts.
Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary is expected to testify today.
Prosecutors plan to conclude their case within a week.
Jancha, who heads the U.S. Attorney's Office in Orlando, was the first witness to take the stand after 6˝ days of testimony by undercover agent Robert Quigley, an inspector with the Internal Revenue Service.
Quigley infiltrated the Common Law Court in 1995 and 1996 and secretly recorded five meetings held on Hoffner Road in Orlando.
Jancha testified Tuesday that his office began getting a flood of documents accusing court officials, including the grand jury foreman, of treason beginning in September 1995.
Jancha said the foreman, Gerald Sheehan, eventually was removed from duty out of fear that he could no longer be objective.
The documents began arriving after the arrests of three Common Law Court members—Warren, Moore and Jack "Marty" Franz, who has since died.
The charges, including obstruction of justice, were part of a federal crackdown on anti-government groups.
On Oct. 12, 1995, Jancha said, he stopped Dunnigan and Moore from interrupting a grand jury proceeding. The two came to the courthouse and insisted on addressing the grand jury, he said.
Jancha, who will continue to testify today, said he explained that they could not lawfully address the grand jury.
After talking with them, he received a document accusing him of treason, the prosecutor testified.
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