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United States v. Harris

February 20, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge


This matter is before the Court upon Mr. Harris' motion [Docket Item 511] requesting that the Court terminate its April 22, 2004 Order (the "April 2004 Order") holding him in civil contempt. As the Court explains in greater detail below, the Court issued an order in August 2003 (the "August 2003 Order") enjoining Mr. Harris from sending documents purporting to create liens or other financial interests to this Court, its employees, employees of the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), and other persons associated with his criminal case. After Mr. Harris continued to send such financially threatening documents, the Court found him in civil contempt of its August 2003 Order and ordered that he be confined until he agreed to cease sending such documents. Since the entry of the April 2004 Order (see [Docket Item 192]), Mr. Harris has persisted in violating the August 2003 Order, continuing to send prohibited documents to the undersigned, numerous judicial officers of this Court, employees of the DOJ, and others connected with this criminal case, contrary to the August 2003 Order. Despite his continued noncompliance with the August 2003 Order, Mr. Harris now moves the Court to terminate its April 2004 contempt citation and his continuing confinement for civil contempt. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Mr. Harris' motion.


On May 6, 2003, Mr. Harris and eight other individuals were indicted on charges of having produced and conspiring to produce fraudulent money orders purporting to be issued by the United States Department of Transportation and the United States Department of the Treasury [Docket Item 1]. As the Court explained in detail in its April 2004 Opinion [Docket Item 193], after the filing of the indictment, Mr. Harris and several of his co-defendants began sending fraudulent financial security arrangements, contracts, and other financially threatening documents to, inter alia, the undersigned, numerous judicial officers and employees of this Court, and employees of the DOJ. To address Mr. Harris' and his co-defendants' harassing conduct, which was designed to disrupt this forum, the Court entered an Order on August 27, 2003 enjoining Mr. Harris and his co-defendants from sending any written communications to this Court, to any judicial officer or employee of this Court, to the United States Attorney, to any Assistant United States Attorney, to any employee or officer of the United States Department of Justice, or to any attorney appearing in this case, whether in an official or allegedly "private" capacity:

(1) Which attempts to create a lien or financial interest; or

(2) Which purports to state a contract with such recipient regarding any civil or commercial matter . . . August 2003 Order [Docket Item 107]. The Order further enjoined Mr. Harris and his co-defendants from "creating affidavits of debt or UCC Financing Statements . . . based upon the abovedescribed security agreements or contracts or liens however entitled." Id.

After it was brought to the Court's attention that Mr. Harris continued to send the very sort of documents prohibited by the August 2003 Order, the Court convened a hearing in April 2004, at which the Government presented evidence establishing that, notwithstanding the August 2003 Order, Mr. Harris' harassing conduct had continued.*fn1 In its April 2004 Opinion and Order, the Court found that Government had proven by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Harris was in contempt of the August 2003 Order. The Court found that "a coercive remedy [was] needed to curtail the continuing effect of these documents, and to prevent future creation of such documents by or on behalf of these defendants in violation of the Court's Order," and ordered that Mr. Harris "stand committed to the custody of the United States Marshal until he purges the contempt by signing an affidavit that the documents . . . are null and void, and that he will not participate in the creation of similar documents in the future." April 2004 Opinion [Docket Item 193].

On July 2, 2004, Mr. Harris was found guilty of producing and conspiring to produce fraudulent money orders, and was sentenced on October 22, 2004 to a term of imprisonment of 188 months, which was to run consecutively to his confinement under the Contempt Order [Docket Item 380]. Although several of Mr. Harris' co-defendants have since ceased their contumacious mailings, and thus their civil contempt orders have been lifted so that they have begun to serve their prison sentences, Mr. Harris has not, to date, purged his contempt. Instead, he has persisted in sending to the same persons the same sorts of financially threatening documents that the August 2003 Order proscribed, despite his continuing confinement. In 2007, for example, Mr. Harris sent the undersigned no fewer than nine documents ranging from invoices, to notices of interest charges on previously billed sums, to a notice of perfection of a claim agreement.*fn2 The purpose of such documents, which bear phony indicia of actual contracts or perfected liens against persons connected with this case, is to create an appearance of the personal indebtedness of the recipients to Mr. Harris, as if some competent tribunal has declared such debts due and owing to Mr. Harris. Such documents have been used by Mr. Harris and his co-defendants in the past to create false UCC filings with county clerks or state officials against the recipients, or to serve as the basis for petitioning to place recipients into involuntary bankruptcy due to unpaid "debts" in the millions of dollars. Indeed, within the past year, Congress has recognized the problem of creation of such false lien claims against judicial officers and other governmental employees and has criminalized such conduct in the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1521.

Notwithstanding his persistent noncompliance with the terms of the August 2003 Order, Mr. Harris now moves the Court to terminate his contempt citation. On December 18, 2007, Mr. Harris filed a petition, ostensibly pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), to vacate his contempt citation [Docket Item 511]. On January 2, 2008, the Court re-appointed attorney Edward Borden, Jr. to represent Mr. Harris in this matter [Docket Item 515], and counsel for Mr. Harris and the Government have since filed submissions addressing the issues raised in Mr. Harris' petition.

On February 6, 2008, the Court convened a hearing at which it afforded Mr. Harris and the Government the opportunity to present evidence and arguments as to whether the contempt citation should be terminated. At the hearing, counsel for Mr. Harris conceded that Mr. Harris has not yet brought himself into compliance with the August 2003 Order and did not dispute the Government's contention that Mr. Harris is capable of so complying. Mr. Harris also spoke to challenge this Court's jurisdiction over him and over the federal crimes of which he has been convicted.*fn3 Also at the hearing, the parties and the Court recognized that if Mr. Harris were simply to desist from his contumacious conduct -- even if he did not file a certification or an affidavit attesting to his compliance -- it would be possible to find that the Contempt Order would serve no further purpose and that it could be dissolved, but Mr. Harris has, as yet, given no indication that he intends to cease his mailings of false and threatening lien claims. The Court reserved decision as to Mr. Harris' motion.


As the Court recognized in its December 18, 2007 Order [Docket Item 512], it has jurisdiction to review its civil contempt order, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Harris has appealed from his judgment of conviction and his appeal is pending before the Third Circuit (Appeal No. 04-4115). As the Court explained,

[t]his Court's review while Harris's criminal appeal is pending may not extend to the criminal appeal itself, since the filing of the appeal from this Court's final judgment of conviction divested this Court of jurisdiction regarding the criminal conviction. The authority to re-examine the basis for ongoing civil contempt, on the other hand, is inherent in this Court and the Defendant-Contemnor has the continuing opportunity to purge his civil contempt or to seek dissolution of the civil contempt order, even if the contempt order is also under appeal.

December 2007 Order n.1. The Court has jurisdiction to review its own contempt citation under the All Writs Act, which provides in relevant part that "all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and ...

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