Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Disturbingly Detailed Account Of Al Flowers vs. Don Samuels, The Great Civil Rights "Toe Stepping Trial" (Some Adult Language And Parody, Be Warned)

Photo and blog post by John Hoff

Today the Star Tribune offered a belated and not terribly detailed account of the trial of Al Flowers vs. Don Samuels, click here for that article. Though offering relatively few details not available on Johnny Northside Dot Com in the past week, the article is valuable in one respect: it shows the mainstream media understands there is a lawsuit machine at work and the mainstream media has called it out. In fact, the first two words of the article tell the tale:


I witnessed the trial and took detailed notes, so detailed the plaintiff attorney reportedly complained to defense counsel that I had somehow obtained the jury list and published it, click here for that blog post about jury composition. In fact, I obtained the names of the jury in open, public court and guessed at the spellings. (The fact the spellings were "approximate" was clearly stated in that blog post)

(The following three paragraphs are parody)

OK, I confess. Al Flowers handed me a copy of the jury list in the men's room, and said something about how he didn't have his glasses, and asked me to read aloud to him the names and (especially) home addresses of the jury. I told Al Flowers I'd be glad to read him the document, but on the condition I could take notes. He was all, like, cool, whatever, and then added, "I can read, you know, I'm not irrelevant." (sic)

Obviously, we didn't want anybody to see what was happening in the men's room so we went into one of the stalls. Sitting on the commode fully clothed, I read aloud a tawdry tale of suburbanites who had left their comfortable homes to sit in judgment on this messy case from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood politics of North Minneapolis, as contaminated by Al Flowers, who lives in South Minneapolis.

I'd only gotten some of the jurist names written down when Al snatched back the document and I was all, like, "What the hell, Al? A deal is a deal." But when you're trapped in a bathroom stall with a guy who is 6'4'' and 220 pounds, notoriously ill-tempered and lacking the social grace of a kindergarten student, you don't really want to push your luck. So I said nothing as Al Flowers stomped away, actually GROWLING like a pit bull. I could only make out the phrase "Maple Grove and sh**."

(End of parody)

Life Is A Stage And We Must All Play Our Roles

Judge Patrick J. Schitlz (like the beer) is very judicial, and has the handsome features and immaculate steel-gray haircut of a United States Senator, but you can perceive an affable and gregarious personality beneath his proper demeanor. It must have required a great deal of self-control to keep from laughing during the trial. One witness later told me about being very close to the judge on the witness stand, looking toward His Honor and perceiving a kind of...

...silent communication in the judge's bemused eyes: We both know this is crazy, but we have to play our roles, don't we?

At the beginning of the trial, the judge read a statement to the jury which summarized the issues in the case and how those issues had spawned the present litigation:

This is a civil case brought by Al Flowers, a community activist, versus City Councilman Don Samuels. Some years ago residents formed the Jordan Area Community Council, known as JACC, a neighborhood organization. JACC has a board of directors. In 2007 and 2008, a number of disputes divided the membership. In 2009 a new board was elected, and that new board elected new officers.

Some saw the election as illegitimate. The new officers called a press conference. Don Samuels attended. Samuels was in favor of the new board. Al Flowers attended, too. Al Flowers was opposed to the new board.

Michael Browne, the chair of the new board, read from a prepared statement. Flowers interrupted. Samuels stood in front of Flowers. Flowers says Samuels elbowed and stepped on his feet in a deliberate way. Flowers says he was assaulted by Samuels.

You, the jury, will have to decide was Samuels acting as a private citizen or a member of the city council? Consider the evidence in light of your own observation and life experience. You are the sole judges of the facts. You must decide who you believe. The witnesses, their intelligence, their motives, manner, reasonableness and consistency.

DO NOT post anything on the internet about this case. Do not post anything on Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace about this case. Don't read news stories about the case. Do not research or make any investigation. Don't go to the internet for information about some person. At the end of the trial, I will meet with you privately and answer questions so you can find out anything you are curious about. The judge didn't say this: the best coverage of all is to be found on Johnny Northside Dot Com. (But it's true)

Opening Statement By Clark Begins With Loud Chaos

Jill Clark walked up to the microphone and there was a shriek from the sound equipment, causing Clark to leap back a few feet in surprise. And so began the case of the plaintiff, with chaos and disorder.

Clark talked about how an opening statement is "a tree to hang things on." She wanted to give the jury "some things to look, listen, watch for." One way to assess creditability is to ask yourself, "What can the person see and hear?" You will see still pictures and one or more video tapes. One tape has audio, one does not. Keep in mind video has a vantage point that can only see certain things.

There are two claims at issue, here. One is a First Amendment retaliation. We ask that you listen for evidence. What was Flowers saying? Why was he saying it? Why did he care so much?

You will hear evidence about how Flowers felt. If he was afraid. You will hear evidence of physicality.

Ask yourself: what was the involvement of Minneapolis? Where did the money come from, and where was it going? You will hear evidence of factions within JACC, two strong and opposing factions. One faction was "pro-city" and one was "pro-community." That dispute got to the point there was a takeover of the board. That set the stage for what you will hear about. You can look at the transcript (of the tape with audio) but we will focus on specific parts.

Flowers stated, "I got four people who says you're illegal." That was "the elephant in the room."

There were witnesses who could see what happened. The plaintiffs believe Don Samuels was there "as a Minneapolis City Council Member." We are going to ask you to find that Flowers was assaulted.

Please consider: if somebody comes very close to you, could that be assault? It is undisputed that Don Samuels came from across the room, and had his back to Flowers. But what was going on with the feet?

After the police came and took Flowers outside, he left, they left, there were no charges. The evidence shows Samuels contacted (made contact with) Flowers but he (Samuels) was not removed that day. Police said Samuels is a council member. He is our boss. Keep in mind a prior jury awarded damages for First Amendment retaliation.

(A clarification is made somewhere near this point. The jury is told the "prior jury" involved a separate case, a different set of facts. It was not a "prior jury" trying this same case. My memory seems to say the judge made the clarification to the jury but my notes do not capture that info)

This Is A Case About A Bully Who Interrupted A Community Meeting

James A. Moore, city attorney, (not to be confused with Jerry Moore, the JACC executive director ousted in 2009) is no stranger to Al Flowers. In fact, it was Moore who went up against Flowers in the "cable access dispute," where Flowers' television show was suspended after somebody on the show said something to the effect "We've got to kill the house negro." (Others hear the word ni**er) The utterance was referring to Don Samuels.

So this "toe stepping trial" was a rematch for James A. Moore as well as Don Samuels.

Moore's opening statement said the case was about "a bully who interrupted a community meeting." The bully is the plaintiff, Al Flowers. Samuels is a community leader who recognized the inappropriate behavior, literally took a stand by standing with his back turned to the bully in a silent gesture of disapproval, and got shoved twice. Then he got sued.

How did we get here? It's a convoluted story. But first, let's talk about opening statements. I think of opening statements as being like the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box which tells you how the picture looks, not "a tree to hang stuff on." You might find a piece that is orange and say, well, that piece must go over there.

JACC is a neighborhood organization. JACC works with the city and does receive money. But in 2008, JACC was a fractured organization. There was a contest over nominations to the board. On January 12, 2009, a new board had its first meeting and ultimately elected its own officers. There was a lot of controversy in the community over these issues.

Don Samuels lives in the neighborhood and was active in JACC before being elected. You will hear how letters were written acknowledging the new board. There was a press conference a few days after the election. There are two videos. These videos are key evidence: a picture speaks 1,000 words. What happens is the plaintiff begins yelling loudly, over and over: "I got four people says you're illegal." Samuels stands in front of Flowers. Flowers shoves Samuels twice in the back and then continues to yell. Others try to calm down Flowers.

What happened here? The Council Member made a symbolic, non-violent gesture of disapproval. For that, he got shoved and then he got sued.

A High Tech Jury Box

It wouldn't be surprising if the jury weighed videotaped evidence very heavily, for reasons beyond its objective recording of whatever reality is placed before it: the jury box is rigged up with computer monitor screens. Each juror has their own private screen.

As in the opening lines of "A Tale Of Two Cities," this was a trial of Light, and a trial of Darkness.

The courtroom lights, according to Judge Schlitz, had only two settings: Airport bright or grave dark. An attempt was made to dim the lights for the first playing of the JACC press conference video--the one with audio, not the silent "Zapruder film" showing Don Samuels head snapping back after being hit from behind, twice. Dimming the lights plunged the courtroom into darkness, so there would be no dimming of lights. His Honor bemoaned the sorry state of the lights in this court room: a different federal court where he has presided has such finely tuned controls you can almost put on a Hollywood production. Oh well. We'd all have to make do.

At this point in the proceedings, Jerry Moore (the ousted former JACC executive director) showed up in the courtroom. He was wearing his eternal blue blazer. As Jerry took a seat, he grinned and actually WINKED at me. Please note this is NOT being written in the parody font. I wish.

The first showing of the JACC press conference videotape would say much about the reactions of the jury, their first impressions of notorious loon-at-large Al Flowers. I watched the jury closely as the tape concluded and they looked up. Several wore carefully-muted expressions of shock and disbelief...except for Mr. Martinson, the oldest juror with a background in print sales. His expression (though muted) was one of anger and disgust.

He was looking straight at Al Flowers.

There are moments you know which way a particular jurist will go long before the jury leaves court to seek a verdict. You can tell by the way they stop taking notes or even try to keep themselves from LAUGHING. You can tell when a jurist has their mind made up. Martinson's mind was already made up. That was one jury member down, and 8 to go for the defense.

Don Samuels Takes The Stand, Jury Soon Eats From His Hand

Don Samuels took the stand and was questioned by plaintiff attorney Jill Clark. Under clever questioning, Samuels confessed to being duly elected three times. Yes, (Jordan resident and super citizen) Megan Goodmundson had "worked on the campaign." (Clark was trying to get Samuels to say Goodmundson was his "campaign manager," but Samuels did not say that)

There was discussion about the various roles of Don Samuels, both as a city council member and a member of the Jordan Neighborhood. So much of the testimony throughout the trial involved trying to prove the "color of law" assertion. Keep in mind ONLY THE GOVERNMENT CAN VIOLATE YOUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS. The First Amendment protects us from the government, not against each other, when it comes to the First Amendment. So if Don Samuels was going to violate Al Flowers precious First Amendment right to, for example, host a show saying "kill the house negro," Samuels would need to be acting in the role of a public official or, at a minimum, be unable to leave that role and act as a private citizen because the public official role was inherent.

There was an extensive and tedious discussion about NRP, CPED and their interactions with JACC. At one point, Don Samuels identified his own wife, Sondra Samuels, on the video tape as Sondra yelled, "Officers, be careful, he'll sue" as the police hauled off Al Flowers. Don Samuels called his wife "the pretty lady," producing soft laughter in the court room and smiles from the jury.

Very quickly, it was apparent Samuels was winning the jury. They liked Samuels, and sensed his aura as the man chosen from all the people of the neighborhood to be its leader, its spokesperson. Before the trial was over, some of the jury members were seen to be sitting up and paying rapt attention to Samuels on the stand, their faces wearing an expression of open admiration, expressions that seemed to say: I can understand why this neighborhood, with all its difficult and troubling issues, chooses this man to fight for its interests. There may be hope for North Minneapolis, after all, if they can produce organic grassroots leaders like this to get them out of their troubles.

For much of the trial, I was seated behind Al Flowers. At one point early in the trial, I saw an image of myself on the video screen behind Al Flowers as I actually, in present reality, sat behind Al Flowers two years later. At that moment, I could feel the thin veil of reality degrading and being replaced with "surreality matter," bit by bit. Will the press conference ever end, or will we all be caught in its vortex forever?

Jill Clark began listing people. People Don Samuels (admittedly) DID NOT go and stand in front of during the press conference. And what could Don Samuels do? He was guilty as all-get-out, forced to admit he hadn't gone and stood in front of these other people.

A still photo was presented as evidence showing Council President Barb Johnson at the press conference. Well, there you had it. Council President Barb Johnson was present at the press conference. As the Charles Manson cultists put it so well: The president has said we are guilty, so why does the trial go on?

Jill Clark asked Don Samuels some rather open-ended questions, and Don Samuels took the opportunity to explain his actions at the press conference:

It was happening again. Al Flowers was trying to shout people down and those present were too intimidated to speak. By standing in front of Flowers with his back turned, Samuels was trying to say "The people in this circle are having a meeting and the grownups will make sure this meeting takes place."

Clark asked: Wouldn't Don Samuels agree that NO MATTER WHAT AL FLOWERS SAID that he (Samuels) does not have a right to assault him (Flowers)?

Without hesitation, Don Samuels agreed.

A Close And Personal Encounter With Jerry Moore In The Men's Room

While the testimony had continued, Jerry Moore changed seats in the court and landed himself at the end of the "pew" where I sat near the jury box. Nobody else was in that "pew" but Jerry on one end, me on the other, and since my end of the pew is set against the wall, the only way out was past Jerry.

I had rather hoped Jerry would move before I had to leave, so I wouldn't be forced to speak to him. Jerry Moore is suing me for accusing him of involvement in the fraudulent transaction at 1564 Hillside Ave. N., a transaction in which Jerry Moore was involved as surely as God made little green apples. You can ask slumlord Keith Rietman, who is very open about Jerry's involvement in the deal. Recently, one of the defendants in a mortgage fraud lawsuit filed against Keith Reitman, Jerry Moore and others submitted a brief to try to keep Moore in the case as a defendant but, really, all this stuff is from another matter which will be explored in good time.

In any case, because Moore has a lawsuit against me, I'm not supposed to speak to him, riiiiight? But I couldn't get out of the pew because Jerry Moore was at the end of the pew, now standing up and talking to two other people, but still blocking the pew egress.

So I leaned over and said to the bailiff, "Sir, I would like to get out." The bailiff immediately asked Jerry, et al, to move aside and let me pass. At this point Jerry began to verbally protest something to the effect why couldn't I ask him, Jerry personally? Why did I have to say something to the bailiff? The bailiff answered something like, "Well, he feels he needs to ask me. Could you move, please?" And they moved. And I passed by, went to the men's room, and was standing at the urinal for obvious purposes when Jerry Moore came in, took the urinal beside me, and began exhaling angrily and undoing his belt.

"Why can't you be a man, huh? Just for once in your life, BE A MAN."

No answer.

"You should go back to where you came from," Jerry says. "Leave. Nobody wants you here."

No answer. One thinks things, but there is no answer. Jerry's voice grows more agitated.

"Nobody wants you. You understand? I don't want you. I DON'T WANT YOU!!!!"

There I stand, with my junk in my hand/
There Jerry stands, also a junk-holdin' man/
But he makes it plain for me to see/
Jerry doesn't want...doesn't want...ME

I zipped up, silently. I washed my hands in silence and in silence I walked away, out of the men's room. In the hallway, the truly scary-looking Mpls Mirror lady chanted "Dead beat dad, dead beat dad." This is what I get for recently paying my ex-wife the $3,000 I owed her from a hard, difficult 10 weeks of extended work in South Carolina. Sigh.

Oh, well. Justice may not exist in the men's room, it may not exist in the hallway right outside the court room, but I had confidence justice would prevail inside the court room. I went back and took a seat. My hands were nice and clean as I entered the court room. The bailiff gave me an understanding nod and smile as if to say, "We know the galley is filled with crazies today but don't worry, this is a federal court, there's plenty of security."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We want you JNS! When the boy gets old enough, he'll opt to live with you and no more pay babies Mama, hopefully.