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Message from the President: Shootings in Tuscon and Toxic Rhetoric

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NEVADA LAWYER
EDITORIAL BOARD Lisa Wong Lackland, Chair Michael T. Saunders Mark A. Hinueber, Chair-Elect Gregory R. Shannon Patricia D. Cafferata, Vice Chair Stephen F. Smith Scott G. Wasserman, Beau Sterling Immediate Past Chair Heidi Parry Stern Erin Barnett Kristen E. Simmons Hon. Robert J. Johnston Richard D. Williamson Scott McKenna John Zimmerman BOARD OF GOVERNORS President: Cam Ferenbach, Las Vegas President-Elect: Constance Akridge, Las Vegas Vice President: Frank Flaherty, Carson City Immediate Past President: Kathleen England, Las Vegas James Bradshaw, Reno Elizabeth Brickfield, Las Vegas Amber L. Candelaria, Las Vegas Laurence Digesti, Reno Elana Turner Graham, Las Vegas Bruce Hahn, Reno Jenny Hubach, Reno Alan Lefebvre, Las Vegas Hon. Vincent Ochoa, Las Vegas Bryan Scott, Las Vegas Richard Scotti, Las Vegas Mason Simons, Elko Ex-Officio Dean John Valery White, UNLV Boyd School of Law Liaison to the Board of Bar Examiners Richard Trachok
Message from the President
Cam Ferenbach, State Bar of Nevada President
SHOOTINGS IN TUCSON AND TOXIC RHETORIC
“One has to wonder if the echo-chamber effect of polarized partisan rhetoric on so many media outlets, amplified through the Internet, has hindered the ability of our populace to consider issues critically and engage in rational discussions.”
By the time this president’s message is published we will know much more about the attack on Congresswoman Giffords and her assailant, 22-year-old Jared Loughner. With six dead, including a 9-year-old girl and a well respected federal judge, this tragedy has created an outcry against “toxic rhetoric” in our current political discourse. The day after the shootings, longtime Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, and newly elected Tea Party Republican, Raul Labrador, both urged political leaders to “tone down the rhetoric.” Although it appears that Jared Loughner was mentally unstable and not aligned with any political movement, many speculate that his instability made him receptive to the gun-related metaphors used as rallying cries by some politicians. After a day or so, however, critics of toxic rhetoric were themselves criticized for blaming legitimate political expressions by politicians, with no ties to Jared Loughner, for the insane acts of this obviously disturbed young man. Hit lists and websites showing political adversaries with gun sights aimed at them play to emotions. They are effective ways to gain media coverage and motivate one’s base. They do not descend to the level of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.”1 The free exchange of ideas, protected by the First Amendment, is a foundational principle supporting a free society and our system of government. Unfettered public debate has worked well for us throughout our history. One has to wonder if the echo-chamber effect of polarized partisan rhetoric on so many media outlets, amplified through the Internet, has hindered the ability of our populace to consider issues critically and engage in rational discussions. Pondering this question led me to recall several cases involving tax protestors or the sovereign citizen movement. One recent highprofile criminal case in our Federal District Court involved former FBI agent Jan Lindsey. In his August 8, 2010, Review Journal column, John L. Smith reported that the then-67-year-old Lindsey had served with distinction in Vietnam. He was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Lindsey worked as an FBI
STATE BAR STAFF Executive Director: Kimberly K. Farmer Bar Counsel: David A. Clark Director of Finance & Information Systems: Marc Mersol Director of Continuing Legal Education: Emily Akerberg Director of Admissions: Laura Gould NEVADA LAWYER STAFF Publications Manager: Jennifer Smith (jennifers@nvbar.org) Nevada Lawyer Coordinator: Melinda Catren (melindac@nvbar.org) Publications Specialist: Christina Alberts (christinaa@nvbar.org) GRAPHIC DESIGN Georgina Corbalan
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Nevada Lawyer
March 2011
agent for 26 years, before retiring in 1995, and then spent 10 more years with the bureau doing background investigations. Somewhere along the way he became a follower of Robert Schulz, the founder of “We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education.” That organization’s rhetoric claims that “Sovereign Citizens” aren’t required to file income tax returns or pay taxes. Lindsey pled guilty to one felony count and was sentenced to serve five years probation and pay $109,193.98 in restitution.2 According to John L. Smith, at the time of sentencing, Lindsey had “...lost his home, his wife, his reputation and now possibly his freedom.” No one would deny that communications by supporters of the “Sovereign Citizens” movement are protected speech. However, others in our society view that movement as dangerous, threatening violence, intolerance and the infringement of rights guaranteed by the body of constitutional law which has evolved since the adoption of the 14th Amendment.3 Lindsey certainly suffered adverse consequences when he decided to conduct his financial affairs in reliance on Robert Schultz’s political theories. As lawyers we are uniquely positioned to mitigate the adverse consequences of toxic rhetoric. Generally speaking, we are well educated and articulate. Many of us are leaders in our communities. People come to us for advice. We are officers of the court, and courts are established to resolve disputes in a civil, fair and reasonably predictable way, according to court rules and our rules of professional conduct. Lindsey was an FBI agent. Didn’t he have some friends who were lawyers? I wonder if a friend ever tried to convince him that “Sovereign Citizen” claims would not protect him from criminal liability for tax evasion. When a friend or family member holds a belief that is mistaken, or arguably so, in its assumptions about constitutional or legal rights, can’t we engage this person in a way that respects their intelligence and still provides accurate information? Who is better equipped than a lawyer to model rational discussion and even respectful disagreement? In 2011 let’s work together to foster rational political discourse that focuses on the issues and invokes positive rather than destructive emotions. It’s a lot easier to ignore toxic rhetoric but, in my opinion, we do so at our peril.
1. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ example of speech not entitled to First Amendment protection 2. The indictment, Case # 2:09-cr-00077, alleged that Lindsey failed to file tax returns from 1999 through 2006. It was reported that this prosecution arose from an investigation into the anti-tax, anti-government Sovereign Movement by Nevada’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Prior to the indictment, Lindsey had lost a civil lawsuit (2:02-cv-00401) challenging the IRS’s efforts to collect taxes. 3. The Anti Defamation League has a webpage detailing the activities of the Sovereign Citizen Movement: www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/SCM. asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America& xpicked=4&item=sov.
March 2011
Nevada Lawyer
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