Two Days in Vegas
A Glimpse of the Schiff Trial
by Jim Davies
The photo shows three features of the Las Vegas scene. On its left is the restaurant tower of the Stratosphere Hotel; a free-market establishment offering fun, food and accommodation. On the right is an example of nature's free bounty; a beautiful sandstone mountain gleaming in the early morning sun; to admire, enjoy and possibly climb.
And in the middle is a massive instrument of coercion: the Lloyd George Federal District Court House, in which is found no freedom, no fun, accommodation only in cages, and (I discovered) very little food.
It is monstrous, even physically. Above ground are six floors, each with headroom of 20 feet. Beneath ground are car parks and, perhaps, dungeons. I suppose it rises 150 feet; visible is the iron structure serving as a massive sunshade for the plaza beneath, supported by a huge column. That has no other known purpose, yet cost 1.2 million stolen dollars.
Yet inside the building, prominent in the huge, domed lobby, it is claimed that justice is done. Visitors are frisked and their IDs are scanned and their cell phones and cameras taken until they leave. All part of the government surveillance system. The corridors are largely empty, the courtroom is elegantly furnished but has terrible accoustics; its audio system works well for the players beyond the bar, but the onlooking public at the rear has to strain its ears to hear what is going on. Even with a hearing aid, for long periods I could barely hear one word in ten.
Anyway, to business: in Courtroom 6D Judge Kent Dawson presides over the trial of Irwin Schiff, Cindy Neun and Larry Cohen for tax evasion and conspiracy. The prosecution has already presented its case in the first three weeks, and even though the defendants have only court-appointed attorneys to assist in their pro-se defense, that case looks weak. Most of the government witnesses admitted under cross-examination that they had found no law to make anyone liable for an income tax.
Now comes the defense case, and witnesses are lining up, ready to say that we haven't either, and that the Schiff system has worked fine for us. I was present for two days.
Witnesses WaitIt's Tuesday, October 11th. Waiting outside 6D is the first batch. Bob Shultz, President of We the People, is ready to tell how his members have time after time asked government agents and even Congress itself to show them the law requiring anyone to pay income tax - and never once had an answer; and how Irwin Schiff is the pioneer of what Shultz calls the "Tax Honesty Movement" (by which he means, tax-law honesty.)
Beside him sits Jan, an FBI Agent, ready to say he finds no crime in anything Schiff and friends have done. Next is John Turner, a former IRS Agent ready to testify that he was never trained in tax law by the IRS but merely how to extract money from the public, and how he too now regards Irwin's understanding of law to be sound. See also Robert Wesley, a black parole officer who has encountered the IRS in numerous meetings and has faced them down as having no legal authority at all.
We also notice Cal Borders (left) known to friend and foe alike as "41K Cal" for his success in using the Schiff method to obtain a $41,000 income-tax refund. And these five are just the first set; more will join in as the week continues.
The effect such testimony would have on the government's case is devastating. The government knows it. So late Tuesday morning Judge Dawson drops another bombshell: no defense witness will be allowed to testify.
Now with nothing to contribute and with pressing business elsewhere, Bob and John set out for the airport. Amendment Six, which guarantees the right of an accused person to have "compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor" has just been repealed by Judge Dawson. There seems nothing left but to appeal an inevitable adverse trial outcome on the grounds of gross judicial interference. More on that below, under "Interpretations."
Muffled TestimonyLunch break Tuesday ends, and comes news that the Judge has changed his mind! - provided we the waiting witnesses tell only of what they know about Irwin's character and reputation in the community. So frantic cell-phone calls reach Bob and John just before they board their respective planes and they are in due course called to the witness stand after all.
Each in turn says what he can about how Irwin is widely known and universally admired (outside government circles, of course) and Bob Shultz did so particularly well. Some others are allowed to say very little, especially myself the following day - though I did manage to get in the fact that Irwin is so well admired in the freedom community that he was nearly chosen to run for President, as a Libertarian.
During the proceedings on Tuesday afternoon, valiant Schiff supporter Angela Stark (right) is so outraged by some government lie that she calls out from the spectator zone "OBJECTION!" She is immediately removed from the courtroom and the building by a 6'6" stone-faced goon in a black suit, who must surely have been the artists' model for all those caricatures of government goons in dark suits.
Throughout these two days with over half a dozen muted testimonies, Irwin himself is on the stand answering questions with relatively few limits. One of the three assistant lawyers remarked that in his experience of over 300 trials he had never seen a defendant allowed to go up and down to the stand to accommodate out-of-state witnesses to be "sandwiched" in between segments! So there are mixed signals coming from Judge Dawson. Is he clobbering the defense, or helping it? - again, see "Interpretations" below.
Schiff on the StandOne Zedhead present remarks that guilty people seldom testify in their own defense, so it no doubt helps Irwin that he not only took the stand but took it for a long time, and had his attorney ask him a long string of questions. Since there are three defendants with three separate assisting attorneys, not all of them are friendly. His answers are magnificent, true, and often generous.
One of the charges is of "conspiracy", as if Irwin, Cindy and Larry sat down in a smoke filled room to cook up ways to defraud the government! So the other 2 lawyers are eager to distance their clients a little from Irwin, and Irwin gave them every assistance. "Freedom Books", he said, "is me." Cindy said afterwards how sweet he had been to take all responsibility himself. Perfectly accurate, but lesser men would have tried to shuffle some off.
This prolonged exposure to the jury of a man who is so confident, so knowledgeable and so likeable can only have greatly helped their cause. The more you see and hear him speak, the more you like him and sense his sincerity.
Then after lunch on Wednesday comes the cross-examination and this is the most dramatic of the bits I watched in these two days. From the government team came one whose name escapes me but who appeared fairly young. I call him "Pugface" because that's what he seems to me to resemble.
As soon as he starts, it is clear that Pugface is no fool. He is a very accomplished trial lawyer, and his "cross" is highly professional. He takes Irwin from one lost court case to another; to one statement after another that some judge had, in the past, denied. It's true, of course; Irwin has lost almost every court case he's fought, over the years. Pugface swung from one to the next, perhaps ten in all. "Didn't you say this, Mr Schiff? And didn't the Court find you wrong?" - all the time, the proof being on-screen from documents gathered for the occasion. It would have devastated a lesser witness, and perhaps ended the trial. His closing question is something like "So, Mr Schiff, are you saying that you know more about tax law than every one of these courts, that every one of them is wrong and you are right?"
I can almost hear Pugface's closing argument, next week. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Mr Schiff wants you to believe he knows more about the law than anyone else, even though he never went to law school. More: he wants you to accept that even if he is wrong, he is sincere in his beliefs. Yet over the past thirty years, ten different courts have told him he is wrong - 'ridiculously wrong' in one case. It's up to you to judge whether he can be sincere in the face of that overwhelming evidence. I say he can not. He calls every judge and every lawyer who disagrees with him a 'liar.' I say the overwhelming evidence is that he is the one who is lying, and that he knows it. And it's up to you to put an end to the damage his lies are causing..."
Certainly, I think Pugface did him a heap of damage. It is a flawless performance, and in the break following I notice a female from the government side of the aisle come over and pat him on the arm as if to say "You nailed him there, tiger!" It's how the animals get mates, is it not? I wonder if Pugface got her for a mate.
However, this damaging "cross" brought some good news too:
- Irwin had an answer for every single tough question and he is as feisty and confident as always in delivering it. To the final one he said something like "Damn right I know better than all those judges! They are LIARS!" And in that answer lies the outcome of this trial, in my opinion. Pugface undoubtedly was goading him to say it, so as to make him look absurd, like a megalomaniac, to the jury. But if Irwin satisfies the jurors that indeed he does know more about i-tax law than any judge or other lawyer they have seen, then they are all home, dry and gloriously acquitted. As befits Vegas, it's a high-stakes contest.
- By the time Wednesday ended, Irwin's attorney has already helped him dig out from under close to half of the damage done; this is a "rebuttal" phase and he went over those lost cases one by one and shows why indeed he had been right, and the courts wrong. If he completes the job tomorrow, Pugface's performance will have failed.
- Most significantly, not once did Pugface name a law to refute anything Irwin has ever said or done. Every time, all he could name were court cases, not statutes! So at one point Irwin points to the Internal Revenue Code and offered: "You show me a law there that requires anyone to pay income tax, and I'll plead guilty right now!" - and the jury, no doubt weary after three and a half weeks, heard him say it. So if we didn't know it before, we know it now: absolutely, from the lowest IRS clerk to the highest attorney the government has hired, they really, truly don't have a law to tax earnings!
- That fact, so clearly demonstrated by the enemy, is overwhelming proof of the validity of the title of Irwin's book, resting now on the evidence table: "The Federal Mafia." There's no alternative, if anyone thinks it through, including jurors: every judge in the country is "in" on the scheme to suppress knowledge of the fact that no such law exists. Irwin's perception that a large conspiracy is at work is amply confirmed by what Pugface said - and did not say, because he could not.
InterpretationsThe most intriguing part of this trial is the behavior of the judge, and his treatment of the defense witnesses, above, is just one example among many - including a savage prohibition on Irwin not to invoke the written Law on penalty of imprisonment! and including, during Week 3, a surreptitious conference with the prosecutors in the absence of the Defense. On its own, that makes a conviction reversible.
Such behavior begs for an explanation, and the background is that certainly, Dawson is:
So he's between a rock and a hard place. Couldn't happen to anyone more deserving.
- under immense pressure from the government to prevent an acquittal, yet
- fearful of being "reversed" on appeal should he be too harsh with the Defense
In the opinion not just of Zedheads observing but also of the three attorneys helping, his conduct has been extremely prejudicial, far more than ever seen before. So what's he up to; is he choosing the second alternative? And if so, how are we to interpret the few signs (above) of a softening in his hostility?
One theory being discussed is that having been handed a very hot potato, he is trying to get rid of it before the trial ends - by deliberately goading the Defense to make an immediate appeal to the 9th Circuit to "stay" or pause the trial and then instruct him to be fair, to go easy on the Defense when it resumes. That way, should there be an acquittal, he can turn to his handlers in the IRS and say "Gosh, look guys, you saw I did my best for you but I've been over-ruled!" At the same time he would in that case avoid a reversal on appeal, which is a big negative Brownie Point for ambitious judges. He'd solve his dilemma.
It's certainly plausible. Myself, I can see one flaw: why would the 9th Circuit judges accept the hot potato if it were handed to them? - that is, why would they not just say No, there's nothing unfair going on here - continue as you are, good buddy. It's true that in general they enjoy reversing judges in Las Vegas (they are "liberal" whereas the Vegas cowboys are said to be "conservative") but they all believe in living off the labor of the American people so they would not willingly act to cut off those funds.
The FeastWednesday evening, a bunch of us show up at the intergalactic headquarters of Freedom Books. Irwin's office (right) shows where he normally works; note that even at this critical moment in his life he takes time out to counsel a Zedhead in need of advice.
Then (below) he treats seven of us to a delicious Chinese buffet after this exhausting day; he is 3rd from the left. Foreground right is Irwin's long-time friend Ray Hartman, the opthalmologist whose practice the government ruined.
The DiceIt was my first visit to Vegas, and it's a strange and remarkable city. If you go, don't miss "the Fremont Experience" in Fremont Street. Several blocks have been covered with a huge arch, the inside of which serves as some kind of gigantic projection screen for a light-and-sound show every hour after dark. The audio is simply phenomenal. I was taken by surprise, walking there; suddenly, I heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer playing their version of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and the music seemed to come from everywhere. I never heard anything like it. All accompanied by color images on the enormous roof, it morphed after a while into "God Bless America" which got the crowd really stirred up.
Vegas is, though, a city of gambling above all; gambling and glitz. This Fall, the government has rolled the dice, to hang on to its annual trillion dollar heist. The dice are loaded heavily in its favor, but it's possible thanks to one remarkable person that the "Common Man" will prevail anyway. If and when he does, what a fanfare there will be!