Justice is Broken

Since 2013, I've been involved in litigation with the City of St. Louis over bogus minor building code violations which started in St. Louis Municipal Court where I was found guilty (no surprise there), appealed to St. Louis Circuit Court where I was denied a trial by jury and found guilty by a judge who was a former St. Louis City employee, then Missouri Court of Appeals where my appeal was dismissed because of a technicality and most recently the Missouri Supreme Court where my transfer was denied without an explanation.  

I am currently researching my final option of request a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court for violations of my due process right to a trial by jury and other issue connected to my case. Just because a court rules against you, doesn't mean your case is over. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a ruling, multiple other courts had already made the wrong decision concerning the merits and or issues of the case. Most people abandon their case because they lost a battle even when the war was winnable. 

However, “the wheels of justice turn slowly" and  "justice remains the tool of a few powerful interests; legal interpretations will continue to be made to suit the convenience of the oppressor powers". At times, it seems as if the legal system doesn't work for anyone except those with the most resources. The costs of our legal system are so high that justice can practically never be done. My major resource was time. If I had not learned how to represent myself in court, I wouldn't have been able to get this far. 

Some people may wonder why I would go through so much trouble. My father and six of his brothers risked their lives, in foreign lands during times of war for this country for the concept of freedom. My uncle, a famous comedian, who became a civil rights icon and was friends with Medgar Evans, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King risked his life and sacrificed millions in earnings to take up the cause of civil rights. I would do dishonor to my family's legacy by simply giving up because the task at hand was difficult. Their struggle was infinitely more difficult than mine.

History teaches us that rights and privileges are seldom taken away swiftly; they are usually taken away slowly almost unnoticed until one day they are gone. To preserve my rights and privileges I fought and continue to fight the City of St. Louis, even though this fight has been a strain financially and emotionally. If we can send men and women across the globe to protect the rights of others, certainly we must stand up for ourselves at home! "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so." – Thomas Jefferson. 

Below are my two transfer request with some minor edits; one made to the appellate court and the other to the Missouri Supreme Court. You often learn more from failure than success. Hopefully, others may benefit from my failure.

Request Made to Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District 

Comes now, R. Hill, to request transfer of this case to the Missouri Supreme Court per rules, 30.27 and 83.02 and states the following in support.

"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," a legal principle which states, a person unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law. Ignorance, however, has been weaponized by municipalities against citizens, even if they have broken no law.

Justice is broken! Everyone seems to know this, but no one appears to act. Just as no individual raindrop feels responsible for the flood, no individual judge feels responsible for the flood of injustice. Ignorance of the flood is no excuse.

This Court may grant transfer because of the general interest or importance of a question involved in the case, for the purpose of reexamining existing law, or for the reason that the opinion filed is contrary to a previous decision of an appellate court of this state. Rule 83.02. This appeal should be transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri for resolution of the following issues:

  1. The perception for many citizens is that the law is a private club and justice cannot be received unless a member of the club is utilized.

    1. The St. Louis area has recently garnered national and international attention concerning the unfair treatment of citizens in court.
    2. The Missouri Supreme Court is currently evaluating recommendations for changes to Missouri Municipal Courts and this case may provide that honorable court with additional insight from an actual municipal court litigant struggling to seek justice through the courts.
  2. The Missouri Supreme Court stated in State ex rel. Estill v. Iannone, 687 SW 2d 172, " it is error to deny a jury request in a trial de novo on appeal from a municipal court conviction"

    1. Whether the burden to demonstrate error is met when a written request that is timely made and denied by the court.

      1. What is required to preserve the right to a trial by jury in a trial de novo on appeal of a municipal court conviction?
      2. Does the appeal court simply require proof from the court record that a trial by jury was requested in writing on a timely basis and denied or is a transcript necessary?
      3. Whether both the legal file and transcript are always required to determine plain error? R. Hill specifically posed a question to this honorable court regarding the transcript requirement and on July 7, 2015, this court entered an order in response to that question.
  3. Whether the appellate court should have informed R. Hill of the deficiencies of the court file and instructed him to file the transcript, before dismissing his appeal.
  4. Whether the court rules are excessively rigid, unfair and create predatory conditions; especially when litigants are clearly at a disadvantage. For example:

    1. The quality of St. Louis City public schools has been substandard for decades, resulting in the loss of accreditation for a 15 year period. Is it fair to require residents of a substandard school district to meet the same strict standards of an attorney when they represent themselves pro se? http://www.kmov.com/story/30337783/st-louis-public-schools-accredited-for-first-time-in-15-years.

      1. Should courts be required to disclose that there are rules of court and point out where those rules can be found?
      2. Should there be a set of guidelines for providing information to pro se litigants so basic questions can be answered to ensure fairer proceedings?
      3. Should there be specific rules created when pro se litigants are forced to represent themselves because they can't afford and can't be appointed counsel?
  5. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of the residents of the City of St. Louis live below the poverty line. Should courts be required to create a legal information desk to inform indigent litigants about legal aid, and other resources? http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/29510
  6. Should elderly, illiterate, mentally disabled and others be allowed to have a family member or friend advocate or speak for them in court?

    1. I witnessed countless examples where people who clearly did not understand the process, ask the court to let a relative or some other person help because they lacked the communication skills to properly explain their situation or position.
    2. Hill's parents, both in their 80's, who are on a fixed income, were summoned to St. Louis Municipal Court for housing violations the same day as his case. Mr. Hill and his father share the same name and Mr. Hill believes his parent's home was targeted because their property was mistaken his. Mr. Hill's father, a Korean War veteran, endured indignity and embarrassment because of the judge's callous comments concerning his disability.
    3. Even the medical profession promotes the practice of CPR and first aid for non-medical personnel to render life-saving assistance to people in need. Isn't it time for the legal profession to allow legal first aid assistance to those most vulnerable?
  7. When pro se litigants express inability to pay for requirements such as the court transcript, should the court inform them of the in forma pauperis application?
  8. When appeals are dismissed because of an error of the court, should litigant's be required to pay a second filing fee? This case was originally dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because of an error made by the Circuit Court which required R. Hill to pay a second $70 filing fee to have the same issues raised before this court.

CONCLUSION

Maybe this honorable court was bound by a set of rules so rigid, it had no choice but to dismiss this case. If so, those rules need to be re-examined.

It's an axiom known by most, especially judges and lawyers; "he who represents himself has a fool for a client". How can an ordinary person who's rights are violated, but can't afford or be appointed an attorney ever receive justice under this current system? He is forced to become a fool! At least by the axiom's standard.

The ability to exercise fundamental rights is crucial, however, if a right can be denied in court by legal gamesmanship and then affirmed based upon a minor technicality on appeal, those rights for all intents and purposes do not exist. The rules, which are supposed to ensure fairness, instead act to oppress.

R. Hill has through independent study, attempted to learn about the law, procedures, and rules of court. Like the countless number of others appearing pro se in courts every day, he had no mentor to guide his way. He simply believed in the concept of justice.

The dictionary at law.com defines justice as:

  1. 1) fairness. 2) moral rightness. 3) a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/ her/it's due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal.

Mr. Hill has observed many legal proceedings over the past few years attended by hundreds if not thousands of other defendants. What he has witnessed and experienced cannot be described even as the "appearance of justice" because most of what he witnessed appeared to be unjust.

R. Hill alleged he was targeted for exercising his first amendment right of free speech for publishing information among other things about the City of St. Louis' red light camera program.  The City of St. Louis created an illegal red light camera ordinance that raked in tens of millions in illegal revenue that the city for the most part was allowed to keep even after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.

Corruption in government is nothing new. The two most recent St. Louis examples occurred less than two months ago. A City health inspector pled guilty of accepting bribes (US District Court ED case number 4:15-CR-00467). The Missouri Supreme Court suspended the law license of a St. Louis City Prosecutor after admitting in federal court that she helped cover up a city police detective’s assault on a handcuffed suspect (https://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=96534).

R.  Hill was found guilty of not painting a cyclone fence, chipped or missing paint on window seals/wood trim and for a missing handrail on the back porch of an unoccupied property. He denied those claims. His property was later vandalized to match the violations. He filed a trial de novo to have the case heard by a jury in circuit court. The circuit court judge was a former St. Louis City employee, enough of a conflict to have a juror removed for cause.

In Circuit Court, Mr. Hill requested a trial by jury, in writing, in a timely fashion and that request was denied. The "legal file" clearly shows this to be true. Mr. Hill was eventually found guilty during a bench trial and filed an appeal. The central question posed by Mr. Hill was a simple one and involved a plain error issue. Is a person entitled to a jury trial at trial de novo of a municipal court proceeding? According to the Missouri Supreme Court, the answer is yes.

Mr. Hill painstakingly researched the law and followed the rules, however, the merits of his claims were never considered. Instead after two appeals and almost three years, he was denied justice because of a missing transcript and ordinance which were not necessary to determine the central question.

Does it matter which ordinance a person is charged with? Would any particular ordinance change the fact that a person is or isn't entitled to a jury trial upon request, during a trial de novo of a municipal proceeding?

Everyone understands the needs for rules, but rules should be applied fairly with the room for exceptions, especially where strict interpretation of the rules results in manifest injustice. Prior to the voting rights act, rules were used to strip away people's rights. Just because it's being done with rules of court doesn't lessen the effect. Poverty has effectively become a criminal offense.  Gideon v. Wainwright established protections for those charged with crimes, but what protection is available for those who are not criminals, but treated criminally?

Many summoned to court naively expect justice but experience bureaucracy. Holding people accountable to rules of court they don't know exist and are not told about is a prescription for injustice. This practice is reminiscent of The Spanish Requirement of 1513 ("El Requerimiento") which was read in Spanish to Native Americans to inform them of Spain’s alleged rights. Natives who did not understand the language and did not comply were deemed responsible for the consequences of non-compliance. The Spanish must have reasoned ignorance of Spanish is no excuse.

In his wildest dreams, R. Hill, couldn't conceive that a building code violation concerning his unoccupied property could possibly end up in the Missouri Supreme Court.

This issue may seem minor to this honorable court, but for millions, these sort of issues, because of the devastating effects they can have are often life changing. In addition to the expense and lost opportunity, the City's alleged corrupt exercise of power has robbed Mr. Hill of the one commodity he can never replace, time.

R. Hill's father and other relatives risked their lives during times of war to defend rights and freedom. Civil rights protesters in the 50's and 60's risked their livelihood and lives for basic human rights. It is unconscionable that Mr. Hill still has to risk the financial stability of his family and himself trying to preserve those rights basic rights.

R. Hill simply wanted his case tried before an impartial jury, which he believes is his right. He wishes the Missouri Supreme Court receive this case because the central issues, the right to a trial by jury and the ability to exercise that right are of general interest and importance and the existing rules need to be reexamined.

Respectfully submitted,

R. Hill, Pro Se


Request Made Directly to the Missouri Supreme Court

Comes now, R. Hill, to request a transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court. This appeal should be transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri for resolution of the following issues:

  1. This Court may grant transfer because of the general interest or importance of a question involved in the case, for the purpose of reexamining existing law, or for the reason that the opinion filed is contrary to a previous decision of an appellate court of this state. Rule 84.04; Rule 83.02.

    1. Whether it is an error to deny a jury request in a jury request during a trial de novo on appeal from a municipal court conviction as this honorable court had previously stated in State ex rel. Estill v. Iannone, 687 SW 2d 172
    2. Whether the burden to demonstrate error is met when a written request made timely and denied by the court.

      1. What is required to preserve the right to a trial by jury in a trial de novo on the appeal of a municipal court conviction?
      2. Does the appeal court simply require proof from the court record that a trial by jury was requested in writing on a timely basis and denied or is a transcript necessary?
  2. Whether it matters which ordinance a person is charged with? Would any particular ordinance change the fact that a person is or isn't entitled to a jury trial upon request, during a trial de novo of a municipal proceeding?
  3. Whether both the legal file and transcript are always required to determine plain error? R. Hill specifically posed that question to the Appellate court regarding the transcript requirement and on July 7, 2015, that court entered an order in response to that question. However, the court's opinion seems to indicate a case cannot proceed without the transcript.
  4. Whether the appellate court should have informed R.  Hill of the deficiencies of the court file and instructed him to file the transcript, before dismissing his appeal.
  5. Whether the court rules are excessively rigid, unfair and promote predatory conditions; especially in regards to municipal court pro se litigants and when litigants are clearly at a disadvantage. For example:

    1. R. Hill responded to the Missouri Supreme Court's request for input concerning municipal court practices. Mr. Hill provided examples of his negative experiences within the St. Louis Municipal Court and how the City of St. Louis had used bogus parking tickets and water bills among other things harass and inconvenience. Mr. Hill received another bogus parking ticket as he secured the legal file from St. Louis Circuit Court on 6-30-2015 and another bogus water bill that included a disconnection notice. Fortunately, R. Hill was able to provide proof (attached) in both instances of the City of St. Louis' error. Once is an Accident, Twice is a Coincidence, Three Times is a Pattern of Harassment. Mr. Hill fears continued retaliation if he is not allowed to challenge the City of St. Louis' actions before an impartial jury.
    2. The City of St. Louis' harassment is partially due to my challenge of St. Louis ordinance #68698 and resulting in a hidden $11 monthly tax disguised as a solid waste user fee that was approved by voters as required under the Hancock Amendment. Mr. Hill had requested an injunction of the solid waste fee, however, the Circuit Court Judge, and former St. Louis City employee refused to hear the motion.
    3. The cost burden of trial de novo is unfairly shouldered by defendants even when their rights have been violated. The Circuit Court cost was deducted from Mr. Hill's $70 trial de novo fees even when he prevailed. There is no incentive for the City of St. Louis or any other municipality to change the status quo.

CONCLUSION

The central issue here is a simple one and lies with the right to a trial by jury on trial de novo of a municipal court conviction. A person either has a right or they do not. This issue has been before the St. Louis Municipal Court several times, the St. Louis Circuit Courts twice and the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District twice, however after more than four years and over multiple court decisions Mr. Hill's central question of a right to jury trial has never been answered.

Mr. Hill requested a trial by jury because he believed it was his right and he did not want the bias of a single person, even if that person was a judge, to decide his case. This honorable court made the following statement in State ex rel. Estill v. Iannone, 687 SW 2d 172:

"At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish State ex rel. Cole v. Nigro, 471 S.W.2d 933 (Mo.banc 1971), appeal dismissed, 404 U.S. 804, 92 S.Ct. 122, 30 L.Ed.2d 36 (1971), reh'g denied, 404 U.S. 960, 92 S.Ct. 309, 30 L.Ed.2d 278 (1971), which holds that there is no constitutional right to a jury trial in a municipal ordinance violation proceeding. The present case concerns the relator's right to a jury trial upon appeal, rather than in an initial proceeding. And here no constitutional provisions are addressed. Instead, this Court is satisfied that under the pertinent statute, the rules of procedure and prior decisions, the relator is entitled to a jury trial, and her request for that procedure must be granted."

The court further stated: "We note, however, that municipal ordinance violations are more akin to misdemeanors or infractions as designated by §§ 556.016.2 and 556.021, RSMo 1978, vis-a-vis felonies. Therefore, the proper procedure calls for the appellant to request a jury trial, as delineated in § 543.200, RSMo 1978.[2] In other words, trial by jury is not automatic, and if the appellant does not make written demand for a jury trial, the case may be bench tried.[3] As mentioned, the relator did make a request for a jury.

Our ruling in this case is consistent with prior decisions holding that it is error to deny a jury request in a trial de novo on appeal from a municipal court conviction."

The court record is clear, R. Hill requested a trial by jury at the earliest possible moment in writing. This is not disputed.

St. Louis area municipal courts gained national and international attention during the Ferguson Protest. It is clear to any casual observer of the municipal court system that a problem exist. This case originated in municipal court and Mr. Hill ran into many of the same issues expressed by those in Ferguson and elsewhere.

Justice is broken! Everyone seems to know this, but no one appears to act. Just as no individual raindrop feels responsible for the flood, no individual judge feels responsible for the flood of injustice.

R. Hill is not an attorney, but unlike most self-represented people he observed in court,  Mr. Hill was at least able to figure out basic court procedure, find and understand the rules. If justice is this difficult to receive on such a basic right, how does it exist at all in this system?

R. Hill finds it inconceivable that building code violations concerning his unoccupied property have ended up in the Missouri Supreme Court.

This honorable court should not have to use its valuable time reviewing these issues. Prior to R. Hill's wife losing her job and then Mr. Hill losing his job, Mr. Hill would have been among those that considered this sort of thing minor, but for many, these seemingly minor violations can create cause havoc and disrupt lives, especially when they are not valid.

R. Hill's simple request is that this honorable court declares that either he did or did not have a right to a trial by jury. If Mr. Hill had a right to a trial by jury, he requests this case be remanded back to St. Louis Circuit Court under a different judge to be decided by an impartial jury.

Respectfully submitted,

R. Hill, Pro Se

 

 

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