PUBLISHED: JULY 30, 2011 1:16 AM EST
UPDATED: JULY 30, 2011 2:25 AM EST
Erie County judge warns Beeman about courthouse protest

Erie County Councilman Ebert Beeman faces foreclosure by the Internal Revenue Service, a Social Security fraud indictment from the U.S. Attorney's Office, and a new set of charges from the county District Attorney's Office accusing him, for the seventh and eighth time, of driving without a license.

This week, Beeman and his anti-government views ran afoul of yet another part of the justice system.

Erie County President Judge Ernest J. DiSantis Jr. on Thursday sent the 62-year-old councilman from Waterford a warning letter for handing out leaflets Wednesday on the steps of the Erie County Courthouse.

Beeman and Julian Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University professor and activist, distributed pamphlets advocating the concept of "jury nullification."

"The information you are providing the citizens is not only false, but also tends to subvert the judicial process, including the right to a free trial that is guaranteed by both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, which you took an oath to uphold," DiSantis wrote.

Heicklen, of New Jersey, has been traveling throughout the region to promote the concept that jurors, when weighing a verdict, can choose to reject the law rather than apply it as instructed by judges.

Beeman said he agreed to help Heicklen when he came to Erie because he has followed him for many years on the Internet and through the Fully Informed Jury Association based in Helena, Mont. Heicklen also has a website,

Heicklen first became known for openly smoking marijuana at protests on the Penn State campus. He is currently awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in New York on a charge of jury-tampering based on the same conduct Heicklen and Beeman engaged in Wednesday in Erie. Authorities said Heicklen passed out leaflets urging jury nullification in front of the federal courthouse in New York in 2009 and 2010.

"I did not realize it was such a big deal, what I did," Beeman said.
"They have not eliminated free speech. If they did, they have not told me about it," he said.

DiSantis said Friday that promoting the notion that jurors do not have to follow the law as given to them by a judge is not free speech, but is akin to obstructing justice.

No trials were in session on Wednesday. However, potential jurors could have been coming and going from the courthouse, DiSantis said. Beeman's pamphlets could have interfered with another person's right to a fair trial, DiSantis said.

"This activity is totally unacceptable," he said.

In the letter, DiSantis told Beeman the court "will not tolerate the activity on the courthouse property or in the immediate vicinity of the courthouse."

DiSantis said Friday that jury-nullification advocates have been around a long time.

"They misconstrue the Constitution and our history," he said.

LISA THOMPSON can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail.