A North Texas couple is finding out that "free speech" can be very expensive.
A few years ago, Johnnie and Clara Russell posted a small yard sign on their two-acre property outside of Fort Worth promoting an event for the non-political "9/12 Project." Someone in the neighborhood complained about the sign which provides information for an event called "Wake Up America." .
Apparently the sign violated the rules of the Homeowners Association (HOA) that governed the subdivision where the Russells lived. And although Mr. & Mrs. Russell claim they never joined the association, never paid dues to the association, and never signed any papers acknowledging the association as a governing body with rules over their property, they were sued for violating the rules.
The first notice of violation is alleged to have arrived while the Russells were out of town and it was returned to the HOA. The second one was delivered by a local Constable.
Citing inconsistencies in the policy that allowed for signs promoting local high school football teams and yard sales, the Russells argued their case in court, but lost. Johnnie and Clara Russell were found guilty by a Justice of the Peace and ordered to pay almost $7200 in legal fees incurred by the Homeowners Association.
The local Fox affiliate has the story;
For the record, Glenn Beck was instrumental in launching the 9/12 Project and it gained national attention via Glenn Beck's Fox News program as well as his radio show, but Mr. Beck is not currently affiliated with the group, nor has he been involved with its operations for a few years.
The National 9/12 Project has it's roots in 9 Principles and 12 Values designed to help renew America.
From the mission statement on the 9/12 Project website;
The 9/12 Project is a volunteer based, non-partisan movement focusing on building and uniting our communities back to the place we were on 9/12/2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with political parties, the color of your skin, or what religion you practiced. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created. Our goal is to bring us back to that same feeling of togetherness again.
The Blaze interviewed the Russells this morning as they were preparing for another hearing before Judge Lynn Marie Johnson, the Justice of the Peace who slapped them with a $7200 fine for violating the rules of the local Homeowners Association. Some very interesting points were brought to light by Clara Russell (Clara and Johnnie Russell could not afford a lawyer, so they represented themselves).
Due to the very large fine imposed ($7200), the Russells filed an "inability to pay" motion which will be heard by Judge Johnson this afternoon.
The Russells would like to appeal the fine and move the case to a (higher) district court, but that would require posting a bond of double the amount of the fine. It was explained to the Blaze that Texas civil courts required the 200% bond in these cases as opposed to the usual 10% bond needed in criminal cases.
It was also explained to us that Judge Lynn Marie Johnson also happens to be a personal friend of a member of the board of the Homeowners Association that is suing the Russells. Clara reports to us that Kathy Kornegay Chruscielski is the board member who calls Judge Johnson her friend. Ms. Chruscielski also posted photos of the swearing in ceremony of her friend, the Judge.
The photos of Judge Johnson previously seen here were removed at the request of photographer and friend of Judge Johnson, Kathy Chruscielski. They were all photos posted on Ms. Chruscielski's public Facebook page. She has since made the photos of Judge Johnson "private."
The Blaze also spoke directly with Judge Johnson this morning. When asked to comment on the ruling made against the Russells last week, she informed us that "Judges only speak to the public through their writings."
We expect to hear from the Russells following their hearing this afternoon.
Clara was also interviewed on Glenn Beck's radio show Tuesday morning and offered her email address for anyone wishing to contact her. firstname.lastname@example.org
H/T - 9/12-er Trevor Thevenot