U.S. Supreme Court
American jurisprudence: Fair, reasonable, following the rule of law and delivering the best chance for justice anywhere, right?
Well, how about a Texas district court case in which there are allegations a judge threatened a participant, ordered that his assets be seized, told him he was not allowed to hire defense counsel and then pronounced he had the full power of the Navy, Army and Marines to enforce his will?
Those are the allegations contained in a case pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that – by the description of a volunteer attorney working on arguments – should “shock the conscience” of the nation.
The bottom line appears to be whether the judiciary is prepared to rein in one of its own after accusations the judge apparently conspired to strip a long list of constitutional rights from a case participant.
Gary Schepps, who describes himself as a “one-man law office,” is working on the bankruptcy case involving Jeff Baron’s company, Ondova. Schepps is volunteering, as Baron was ordered by Senior U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson not to “hire” an attorney for his defense.
Schepps says it is an “overreaching order” against Baron from Furgeson, based in Dallas, that created the trouble.
He told WND Furgeson held a secret meeting with several others about Baron that resulted in the naming of a “receiver” to take over Baron’s assets, property and life.
“What is frightening legally is the U.S. federal judge’s reasoning. The judge reasons that he has power to – without any notice or hearing – appoint a receiver over an American citizen, and his receiver, who takes orders from the judge, can then waive the person’s constitutional rights,” Schepps told WND.
Baron became a successful businessman with the rise of the Internet age in the 1990s. His many companies registered domain names by the thousands.
His success attracted attention, and he was soon wooed by another business operator who apparently promised the development of a search engine to rival Google.
But that business relationship went sour fast, leaving Baron and his multiple corporations beat up and bloody but not dead.
Baron said he successfully fought off numerous lawsuits brought over the breakup and, although his company was forced into bankruptcy, was faring well until he wound up in the courtroom of Furgeson, who was appointed by President Clinton.
According to a motion filed by Schepps to the appeals court, Furgeson had personality problems with Baron.
“Every person has their own personality, and the district judge has clearly been personally offended by Jeff, and apparently by counsel,” the motion said. “This may be because, as a result of his own personality style, Jeff’s testimony is naturally narrow, and technical.
“The court’s language is broad. Review of the transcripts shows two men entirely speaking past each other.”
But the judge apparently reacted personally.
During one of the hearings as the dispute progressed – before the receiver was appointed – Furgeson was quoted saying, “You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to screw with a federal judge, and if you don’t understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army [and] Marines behind me.”
The judge is also on record reminding Baron that “death” is an option as well.
Despite the obvious vitriol present in the courtroom, the bankrupty case of Ondova, one of Baron’s companies, reached a “Global Settlement Agreement” in July of 2010 that was supposed to resolve the conflicts.
According to both Baron and court records, under the direction of the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Daniel Sherman, Baron’s company Ondova appeared to have about $2 million in cash available and only about $900,000 in settled claims.
“Sherman should have immediately closed the Ondova bankruptcy in
September 2010 when there was the million dollars cash surplus. Instead,
Sherman kept the bankruptcy open and ran up over $300,000 in additional attorney fees,” Schepps said.
When Baron objected, the full wrath of the judiciary arose anew.
“Within three business days Sherman had Baron placed into receivership,” with another local attorney, Peter Vogel of Gardere, Wynne and Sewell, named as receiver.
According to details about the Baron case maintained on the website LawInjustice.com,Vogel and Baron have a history going back to 2001.
In 2001 Baron considered hiring Vogel to represent one of his many technology companies.
During a pre-hiring screening, Baron admits that he revealed confidential information about his business to Vogel but ultimately decided not to hire him.
Suddenly Baron was faced with lawsuits against his company that were employing trade secrets he had revealed only to Vogel.
The law firm behind the lawsuits? Gardere, Wynne and Sewell.
Although he successfully fought off each of the lawsuits, Baron found himself under direct control of none other than Vogel.
Then the ex parte meeting Furgeson had with Sherman and Vogel, behind closed doors, named Vogel as the receiver over everything in Baron’s life.
Schepps told the 5th Circuit Justices about the effect of that order by Furgeson.
“Other than brutally punishing Baron – limiting his access to medical care, keeping him from owning an operating vehicle, traveling outside of Dallas, having heat or air-conditioning, being allowed to earn any money or engage in any business transactions, burning up his COBRA coverage, etc.
“Literally, the receivership has achieved nothing other than to: (1) prevent Baron from hiring any legal counsel, (2) create a list of groundless, non-diverse state law attorney fee ‘claims’ against Baron (solicited by Vogel); and (3) provide a platform for Sherman and Vogel to run up fee demands to a combined total of over FOUR MILLION DOLLARS.”
WND obtained a copy of a recent motion filed in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by Schepps.
“The original purpose of the ex parte receivership was clear: Jeff Baron was warned that he was ‘prohibited from retaining any legal counsel’ and that if he did… the receiver may move the court to find you in contempt.”
Schepps told WND that Sherman and Vogel falsely told Furgeson that many lawyers had outstanding fees that Baron has yet to pay, so the receivership was necessary to “discover” those lawyers and make sure they get paid.
Baron’s documentation indicates otherwise.
Schepps said that while the matter has been on appeal for nearly a year the district court has allowed Vogel and his law firm to distribute nearly $1 million of Baron’s money to themselves.
He said that, in addition, Vogel has solicited claims from Baron’s former attorneys for unpaid fees, even though no claims had been submitted.
“And presented the ‘claims’ to the district court in a one-sided ‘report’ that intentionally excluded all of the exculpatory evidence,” one of Schepps motions continues.
The motion then describes in detail how all claims by these “past” attorneys are fictitious, in most cases easily proven false by signed contracts between Baron and said attorney.
Schepps tells WND, “Sometimes there are fee disputes between clients and attorneys. It happens. That is not what happened here.
“The claims, and we’ve document this clearly, are 100 percent fabricated garbage.
“Notice the huge number of attorneys that somehow can’t find their contracts and all claim $300 per hour fees. Their invoices and letters to other lawyers, however, showed they were working for $40 per hour or flat fees – and were paid in full,” he said.
Baron sought relief from the fictitious claims and what his attorney calls “outrageous” billing by Vogel.
Instead, according to Schepps appeal motion, “the district court did not grant Baron any of the requested relief, and instead sealed from the public view Baron’s motion, objections, and response to the one-sided receiver’s ‘report.'”
Schepps said in his appeal, “The district court erred in holding that it could appoint a receiver over an individual and thereby waive the individual’s constitutional right to trial by jury.”
Schepps said that a number of basic civil rights have been denied, such as due process, and the guarantee under the 7th Amendment of the Constitution that if the value of a claim exceeds $20, Baron has the right to a trial by jury – which has been clearly denied in his case.
“The district judge most likely did not initially intend to put Jeff into a ‘civil lockdown’ for months on end and present him with a million dollar receiver’s bill,” he said.
“But when a court disregards the rules of procedure and long established principles of due process, they put their finger in the meat grinder, and soon the whole body is pulled in,” said Schepps in a motion in the case this year.
WND repeatedly attempted to contact Vogel, unsuccessfully.
The documentation of the case can be seen online where it is maintained by a acquaintance of Baron’s who “is outraged” that Baron could be treated like this in America.
WND is told that the court won’t allow Baron to maintain the website to tell his story.
“Jeff doesn’t actually have a website, and by court order is prohibited from having one, and the lawinjustice site was set up by a friend of his,” Schepps told WND.
“There has been a complete breakdown of due process in the district court,” he said.
“Jeff Baron’s constitutional rights to due process, unreasonable seizure, to hire legal counsel, to travel, to work, to engage in commerce and business transactions, etc., have been suspended,” he says.
“The actions taken against Mr. Baron shock the conscious.
”My concern is that the Fifth Circuit has to make a choice. Do they acknowledge that there are a bunch of dishonest attorneys who have tried, literally, to conspire together to steal money from Jeff? Or, do they throw Jeff under the bus to ‘protect’ the ‘good name’ of the legal profession?” he said.