David Kallman, Senior Legal Counsel at the Great Lakes Justice Center, is fighting for First Amendment rights in major case involving freedom of expression. The case involves Keith Wood, a former pastor who handed out pamphlets on the public sidewalk in front of a courthouse in Michigan.
The pamphlet discussed generic juror rights information, saying nothing about any case pending before the Mecosta County Courts. A judge, not liking the content of the pamphlet, had Wood brought inside the courthouse and charged with felony obstruction of justice and misdemeanor jury tampering. No jury was ever selected and no trial occurred while Keith exercised his First Amendment rights on the public sidewalk.
Keith is a small businessman, is married and has eight children. The court imposed a $150,000.00 10% bond just before Thanksgiving and he had to post $15,000.00 in order to get out of jail. Attorney Kallman thereafter won a dismissal of the felony obstruction of justice charge, but a jury convicted Mr. Wood of misdemeanor jury tampering. The trial judge sentenced him to 8 weekends in jail (24 days) and six months probation and refused to stay his sentence pending appeal, ordering Woods to immediately go to jail on Friday. Kallman filed an immediate appeal to the Circuit Court asked for an emergency stay of his sentence pending his appeal. Another judge (from outside the county), reversed the sentencing judge’s order granting a stay of the sentence pending appeal. So, Mr. Wood is free while his case is on appeal!
The issues on appeal include:
- The violation of Mr. Wood’s First Amendment right to free speech in a public forum. The trial judge refused to dismiss the case on these grounds and would not let Keith’s attorney argue this issue to the jury.
- The trial judge refusal to allow Keith’s attorney to argue or comment to the jury on one of the elements of the crime charged. One of the elements of the crime of jury tampering is that the prosecutor must prove Mr. Wood tried to influence jurors in the trial of a case. Wood’s lawyers expected to argue that the Keith’s jury must find him not guilty because no jurors in the trial of a case existed under the facts of the case. Indeed, under the facts before the court, no juror was ever sworn in a case and no trial ever occurred during the time Wood handed out his pamphlets on the public sidewalk. The trial judge, however, prohibited Keith’s lawyers from even arguing this fact to Keith’s jury.
- The trial judge also incorrectly ruled that a person becomes a juror when he or she receives a jury summons in the mail. Keith’s lawyer argued, and the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed in earlier case precedent, that a person is not a juror until sworn in to serve on a jury in a case. Mr. Wood’s lawyer was also prohibited from arguing this point to the jury in his case.
After the Judge granted our motion to stay the sentence pending appeal, the prosecutor requested a speech suppression “gag order” from the judge to prohibit Mr. Wood or his attorneys from talking to the media about the case! The judge quite properly denied the request in yet another victory for the First Amendment.
Here is some of the press coverage from Keith Wood’s case worth reviewing: