Letter to US Attorney Pavone re. Free Speech, Jan 2003

Jan 2, 2003

The Honorable Joseph A. Pavone
United States Attorney, Northern District of New York
100 S. Clinton St
P.O. Box 7198
Syracuse, NY 13261-7198

CC: Asst US Attorney Richard Southwick;  Ms. Lisa Peebles, Esq.

Dear Mr. Pavone:

I am asking you to please review the prosecution of United States v. Murtari. I am concerned by a broad order issued by Magistrate Judge DiBianco in response to a request by your office. I hope some compromise may be reached to avoid what is sure to be unfortunate escalation of legal action in this matter. I also call your attention to what may be Federal Civil Right’s violations presently occurring in the New York Court system and ask for investigation.

RE: United States v. Murtari

Last Monday I returned to the building in an attempt to petition Senator Hillary R. Clinton for Family Law reform. I was initially arrested for “unauthorized loitering” and then when I stated my intention was to return to the 14th floor I was issued tickets for “trespassing and disorderly conduct” and taken to jail by the Syracuse Police (and released after arraignment the next day). I was also told by Federal Protective service agents to expect more charges resulting from an alleged violation of the Judge’s order (page one, page two) – even though I explained I was there to “petition” not to “protest, march, picket or demonstrate.” This is not just a word game, but real meaning, and a protected right: Amendment I – “Congress shall make no law � abridging � the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The definition of “petition” from Websters: 1 : an earnest request, 2 a : a formal written request made to an official person or organized body (as a court) b : a document embodying such a formal written request, 3 : something asked or requested

Definitions of protest (defined as an act of dissent, an objection), march (rhythmic stride, in step with others), picket (to enclose, a line of people), demonstrate (to prove, show clearly).

Mr. Pavone, I am no wild-eyed radical and I am not in the building to cause any type of disturbance or trouble. I hope the attached photograph helps everyone begin to see real people. My mother is 87, and when I returned home from jail on New Year’s eve I could see she was ill from the effect of a cold (it worried me). My son Domenic is 9, he is expecting to see me and Grandma on February 14th (missing that by being in jail for contempt worries me). What I do in the building (and what I have done many times in the past without being arrested) is quietly walk with a pleasant manner and carry pictures of parents and children unjustly separated by our nation’s system of family law. I am a loving parent concerned about the welfare of my child and those of others. Above the pictures is a brief message “Senator Clinton, please help us.” I would probably not be writing you if I was being prosecuted for that (it would be real), but the progress of this matter is obscuring that basic fact.

The goal of the group, AKidsRight.Org, is a positive approach to reform – NonViolent Action. It would be easy to find people who wanted to picket, protest, or demonstrate about Senator Clinton or many other issues (including Family Law reform) – that is not our goal. The demonstration of anger or contempt has no part in it. We feel Senator Clinton is a good person who obviously cares about children and family issues. This effort is an attempt to show how important this issue is not only to myself, but other parents. In a world and time where so many people feel that violence and anger are the only way to bring significant social change – we hope to remind people there is another very effective way (Faith, Love, and personal sacrifice). Some might say the government would have an interest in “promoting” such peaceful and positive activities.

Let me briefly summarize my concerns: What I sensed most clearly was the assumption that we cannot allow this man to walk in the building any more and we are going to stop him. With measured words I regret to say that the “findings” stated in the order have a limited correspondence to reality. At my trial there seemed to be no requirement for proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” as I was found guilty of “congregating” with others (which had no justification in the facts presented). In the Judge’s official decision he refused to find me not guilty of the first two counts of loitering and failure to obey building rules. I was surprised to find that testimony regarding conversation between myself and Asst. US Attorney Olmstead was not allowed regarding a prior dismissal of the charges, and his words to me that my right to petition was protected. The banning order seems to be an effort to extend the building rules and include prohibitions which were not included by Congress in the original regulations – although again, I have always used the word “petition” to describe my actions – and those words were not put into the order. I was also prohibited from contacting Senator Schumer’s local office, they were contacted by one of our members and were quite surprised by that fact?

Lastly, at sentencing I got the impression from Judge DiBianco that he would be imposing longer sentences and that he thought I would be “happy” to become a martyr for the cause. That could not be farther from the truth. What I “want” is a dialog on reform and to be a parent to my child.

Compromise – I would like to say I could “wait” for all appeals to be exhausted, but I cannot. This is an important manner and a political manner which needs resolution immediately. With each day more parents and children experience the same pain that my son and I have known. It is very clear that Government has not handled this in a very consistent manner, especially when I was allowed to walk in the building for weeks at a time.

I hope that pending completion of all appeals that I would be allowed to proceed in my present fashion. That is not asking for a lot, especially considering the previous history and the gravity of this matter. Hopefully Senator Clinton will also see the importance of reform and begin a dialog on the issue – then the need to “petition” her would cease.

I want to repeat something I said to Judge DiBianco at sentencing. My family and I are certainly ready to accept the consequences of my actions in the building. I understand my role in what has happened. I do not wish to blame others in any way or spread the guilt. I have a great deal of respect for both Mr. Southwick and Judge DiBianco. This has been a unique case. But I do clearly see devastating consequences as the full force of the United States Government descends and I just have to ask at all levels of government that people are sure “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

RE: New York State Family Court system

On March 20th of this year I appeared in front of Magistrate Judge Peebles as some prior charges were dismissed. As part of his presentation to the Court, Asst. US Attorney Southwick explained that one role of the US Attorney’s office was not only to prosecute criminals, but to also “protect the rights of citizens” – I write to you now in regards to that statement and actions by New York State’s Family Court system.

There are many people in the reform movement who feel that Federal Laws and Constitutional rights are being violated here in this state. As an agency also empowered to “protect the rights of citizens” I hope you can assign someone to investigate the local practice of Family Law in New York. I know we can provide you with detailed cases and your staff is obviously in a much better position to help make these determinations and also to ask more questions.

If someone can contact me I would be happy to make arrangements to produce more detailed information for their review.

Respectfully yours,

John Murtari
315-635-1968, x-211