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Jury returns guilty verdict against ‘common-law’ group

December 13, 1996 GMT

TROY, Mo. (AP) _ Jurors unswayed by anti-government arguments convicted 15 people of judicial tampering for their involvement in a ``common-law court.″

Jurors Thursday recommended two years in prison for 13 defendants and seven-year sentences for two others depicted as the group’s leaders, Clifford K. Hobbs and Dennis Logan.

The members also face fines of up to $5,000. No sentencing date has been set.

The 13 men and two women were part of a common-law court group that filed a $10.8 million claim in Lincoln County Circuit Court against Associate Circuit Judge Patrick Flynn. Prosecutors called it an attempt to harass Flynn, who was scheduled to preside over a traffic charge against another member of the movement.

``The only issue is punishment _ guilt is clear,″ prosecutor Ted Bruce said. ``It is time that they be held responsible. The common-law court is silly. It was just made up.″

Common-law courts advocates often consider themselves immune from state and federal courts based on their belief that the government has abandoned the U.S. Constitution. While they share some beliefs with the Freemen who staged an 11-week standoff in Montana this spring, the defendants deny they have any links with that group.

Three other members of the movement are to be tried separately on the same charge.

While most of the 80 courtroom members appeared to support the defendants, Bruce said it didn’t bother him.

``This trial has been a magnet for a very small, misguided group of people,″ he said.

The defendants each represented themselves throughout the nearly two-week trial and in closing arguments, they said there was no need for the trial.

``We have our own system,″ Dorsett H. Gant said. ``We need to be rid of systems that are evil and corrupt.″