SIMPLY ‘CHARLOTTE’: Self-Styled Colorado ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Who Sued State Judge In Federal Court After Being Found Guilty Of Traffic Violations Loses Appeal In 10th Circuit
EDITOR’S NOTE: So-called “sovereign citizens” have made news in the AdSurfDaily Ponzi case and in other court actions across America. One of the hallmarks of sovereign citizens is the pro-se pleading, including pleadings in which the filers do not use their full given names. (Think “Kenneth Wayne” in the ASD case, as opposed to “Kenneth Wayne Leaming” or “Kenneth W. Leaming.”)
Such pleadings often are impossibly off-point and read like political statements, as opposed to well-reasoned legal arguments grounded in rational thought. Judges across the United States have encountered instances in which sovereign citizens try to impose financial penalties against them, and there even have been cases in which judges were threatened with arrest and civil prosecution under the federal RICO statute for carrying out their public duties.
The story below is about how pro-se pleader and self-styled sovereign citizen Charlotte Kempf sought to sue Colorado Judge Karla J. Hansen in federal court for alleged civil-rights violations. It begins with a quotation from a decision released Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and concludes with a 21-year-old case-law citation involving a self-described sovereign citizen who received a five-year prison sentence for flouting the law.
“[W]e note that an individual’s belief that her status as a ‘sovereign citizen puts her beyond the jurisdiction of the courts ‘has no conceivable validity in American law.'” — United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Aug. 15, 2011.
Charlotte Kempf was convicted of traffic violations in Colorado’s El Paso County Court. She then filed a civil-rights lawsuit in federal court against Karla J. Hansen, the trial-court judge who imposed fines and a five-day jail sentence, according to court records.
The filing of the case meant that Hansen had to defend herself in federal court over her judicial decisions in a traffic case in state court because Kempf was displeased with the outcome. The financial costs to the judge and taxpayers were not immediately clear.
Kempf’s first bid to hold Hansen accountable for alleged improper actions in a traffic case and allegedly conducting a flawed trial failed. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn of the District of Colorado ruled last year that “absolute judicial immunity shields Judge Hansen from the plaintiff’s claims.”
But Kempf, who describes herself as a “sovereign citizen” and sometimes refers to herself simply as “Charlotte,” appealed to the 10th Circuit. Kempf also sometimes refers to herself as “Charlotte of the Kempf family” and “Charlotte d.b.a. CHARLOTTE KEMPF” while rejecting “the use of her surname,” according to court filings.
A three-judge appeals panel unanimously ruled against Kempf on Monday. The case is styled CHARLOTTE v. HANSEN,” with simply “CHARLOTTE” as the Plaintiff-Appellant, and KARLA J. HANSEN, State Trial Judge” as the Defendant-Appellee.
“Kempf was convicted in El Paso County court of a number of traffic violations,” the appeals panel said. “She then sued Hansen, the judge who presided over her trial, in federal court. Hansen moved to dismiss Kempf’s complaint, asserting absolute judicial immunity from civil suit. Appealing pro se, Kempf repeats several arguments she asserted below, and advances a number of additional claims in her reply brief, including that she is a ‘sovereign citizen.'”
In affirming the dismissal of the complaint against Hansen, the appeals panel wrote that it had a message for Kempf.
“For Kempf’s benefit, however, we note that an individual’s belief that her status as a ‘sovereign citizen’ puts her beyond the jurisdiction of the courts ‘has no conceivable validity in American law.'”
The panel pointed to United States v. Schneider, 910 F.2d 1569, 1570 (7th Cir. 1990), in its Kempf decision.