By Margot Sanger-Katz
Anti-tax advocates out in force
Sun Jan 21, 2007 17:38

Anti-tax advocates out in force
Couple's trial has attracted their notice

By Margot Sanger-Katz
Monitor staff
January 21. 2007 10:02AM

avid Baker has read the entire internal revenue code. Twice. The Auburn, Mass., man, who drove to Concord several times to attend Ed and Elaine Brown's tax evasion trial, said that he's spent more than 1,000 hours poring over title 26 of the federal code, searching for the provision that requires him to pay taxes.

"You will not see a law making anyone liable for these taxes," he said last week in the federal courthouse.

Baker was just one of a rotating cast of supporters who filled one side of the visitors' benches in the Browns' courtroom. About a dozen friends and sympathizers came to court each day, whispering commentary during the testimony, and gathering at pulled-together tables for lunchtime strategy sessions at Remy's, the restaurant across from the courthouse. They came from different places, and many did not know each other before the trial began, but most said they were there because they believed the Browns' legal arguments and wanted to help them make their defense.

"That's why I'm here," Michael Famolare of Deering said to another supporter early in the trial. "I know I'll have my time."

On Thursday, a jury found the Browns guilty of every crime they had been charged with, including tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the federal government, failing to withhold employment taxes and disguising large financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements. After the verdict came down, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Morse said he hoped the outcome would send a strong message to those who might adopt the Browns' views.

"The arguments they put forth have been routinely dismissed," Morse said yesterday. "The government is going to prosecute people who do not pay their taxes."

But in interviews with several court regulars, not one said that his personal beliefs were swayed by the outcome of the trial. Most felt that the Browns were convicted because of unfair trial conditions imposed by the judge, not because their legal position was incorrect. Others said that the Browns were right in their basic view that tax laws are bogus but made tactical mistakes in their courtroom arguments that cost them an acquittal.

"This was not a particularly good representation of someone who was educated at defending themselves in a courtroom," said Greg Lidland, who came to court for one day. "But be that as it may, it was also not a good representation of a true and fair trial."

For most of the trial, the Browns represented themselves with the help of Michael Avery, a Florida man who runs a service called Outlaws Legal Service. (Judge McAuliffe referred to Avery as their paralegal.) But after neither Brown appeared in court Jan. 12, the couple chose different courses. Elaine Brown returned to court Tuesday and accepted the assistance of a public defender. Ed Brown, who said he distrusts all attorneys, holed up in his Plainfield home and refused to participate in the remainder of the trial.

In his rulings on pretrial motions and his statements from the bench, Judge Steven McAuliffe made clear that he agreed with few of the Browns' legal arguments. He said that he believed the Browns' best opportunity for a defense lay in convincing the jury that they honestly misunderstood the tax laws. McAuliffe allowed some discussion of the Browns' tax views into court, but he would not allow the jury to consider the question of whether the tax laws were valid. His rulings prevented the Browns from entering documents into evidence or asking many questions challenging the content and meaning of tax laws.

McAuliffe ruled against nearly 40 pretrial motions filed by the Browns, some of which challenged the jurisdiction of the federal court, the legitimacy of the grand jury indictments and the impartiality of the judge, since he's a federal employee. In court filings, the Browns also demanded documents from the government, including evidence of the plaintiff in their criminal case and the home addresses and social security numbers of grand jury members.

Many Brown supporters pointed to this paper trail, often erroneously saying that the judge had denied "all 42" motions, as evidence that the trial had been rigged.

"You'd think we lived in Somalia or something like that," said Dennis Mounce of Manchester, who said he was distressed by the judge's rulings. "You wouldn't think that would happen in New Hampshire."

Several disgruntled trial attendees plan to meet next week to draft a complaint about McAuliffe for the judicial ethics panel.

But while the Browns' supporters said they were upset about the trial's outcome, most said that the judge's behavior was what they had expected.

"I wanted to see just how the federal courts are in cahoots with the Internal Revenue Service," said Christopher Gronski of Wolfeboro. Gronski is the New Hampshire state coordinator for We The People, a national group that has been challenging the income tax through lawsuits and public confrontations with IRS officials. "I knew the condition of the courts in this country."

Gronski also attended to teach a lesson to his 14-year-old daughter, Rebecca. She sat quietly by his side for two days of testimony, wearing a button reading "No, you can't have my rights. I'm still using them." Gronski home schools his children and expects Rebecca to write a report on her experience.

"She gets pretty verbal about the injustice that she sees there," he said.

Bernie Bastian, a close friend of Ed Brown's, who was in court every day of the trial, said he was upset by the judge's decisions but not surprised. His study of similar trials had shown him that defendants who don't agree with the standard interpretation of the tax code often lose.

"I did expect it going in," he said. "I mean, the government doesn't want anyone to know this, so they're bound to suppress all the evidence they can."

But Bastian, who said he doesn't pay federal income taxes himself, said the knowledge that he might be prosecuted and convicted for similar crimes doesn't give him pause.

"I believe in God and I believe when I get there he's going to be the judge of judges," he said. "If everybody's jumping off a bridge, that's not going to make me."

Scott Wells of Concord has been sending letters to the IRS in place of tax returns for several years. He said that he has his doubts about the treatment he'd receive if he was brought into federal court. But he also said that he was dismayed by some of the strategies employed by the Browns. He has his documents in order and his Supreme Court precedents at the ready, he said, should his time come.

"I'm not scared," Wells said. "And I don't know if that's just because I'm very confident in my methods or extremely foolish. Time will tell."

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