Justice in the Time of Corona

By Janet Phelan

“I discovered to my joy, that it is life, not death, that has no limits.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

One of the casualties of Covid-19 has been our system of justice. The First Amendment to the Constitution, granting freedom of assembly, freedom to practice one’s chosen religion, and even freedom of speech is being trampled upon in the face of the corona crisis. The fact that this illness may possibly be no more dangerous than the seasonal flu pandemics of recent years is not apparently part of the national dialogue.

Michigan recently issued an order for all nonessential workers to stay home, citing the potential to arrest violators on misdemeanor charges. In that state, misdemeanors carry a punishment of up to a year in jail. Other states have issued similar orders, and in Washington DC and elsewhere, you can be jailed and fined for leaving your house. A recent Los Angeles Times article detailed the arrest of a paddle boarder on the coast off of Malibu, among other violators.

Well, we don’t want him infecting the fish, right?

In many states, courts are now closed. The DOJ has asked Congress for the suspension of habeas corpus and for the right to detain suspects indefinitely without trial.

Other legal rights are under attack. According to this article, an effort is afoot in California to waive transparency laws.

Noting that city resources and personnel are stretched thin responding to the pandemic, the executive director of the League of California Cities asked (Governor) Newsom last week to “take immediate action to pause certain statutory requirements.”

These “statutory requirements” include the public records act and financial disclosures of public officials.

While we are watching our legal protections swirl down the toilet, it is important to remember that they are really pretty  illusory.  In one recent instance, and in an apparent effort to obscure information relating to a human experimentation project being forcibly inflicted on psychiatric inmates, UCLA Hospitals and Clinics ignored their legal obligations under the California Public Records Act — long before the corona crisis hit.

All was not well in our justice system prior to corona. Fundamentally, our system of justice relies on the integrity of our judges. Long before the corona crisis hit, hard hitting questions were emerging referencing the mounting evidence that state court judges were routinely receiving bribes and pay-offs. It is now appearing that federal judges can be added to the list of those who are similarly self-enriching at the cost of justice.

The revelations that somewhere in the realm of two- thirds of state court probate judges  researched had loan histories redolent of money laundering and bribe taking are now being echoed in other “high stakes” courts.

By “high stakes” here we mean courts through which money flows like a virtual waterfall. With 30 trillion dollars set to be transferred from the baby boomers to their heirs, and much of these funds now diverted through adult guardianship courts, these proceedings can certainly be thought of as “high stakes.” https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/28/wealth-transfer-baby-boomers-estate-heir-inheritance.html

(For those not yet aware of the concerns prompted by probate judges’ excessive loan activities, this brief Russia Today interview lays out the territory)

Tax court could be considered another money-rich venue. A recent investigation of a federal tax court judge, the Honorable Michael B. Thornton, has raised questions as to his loan activity, which appears to be excessive and of concern.

Thornton, who was at one time Chief Tax Court Judge, has been serving as a judge for over twenty years. During this time span, Thornton has encumbered his personal residence with approximately $2.5 million in loans, loans which he pays back very quickly.

For example, the initial mortgage taken out on his property at time of purchase in 1999 was for $428,000 and was paid back in full by 2003. In the meantime, he again mortgaged the property in 2002 for $540,000, a loan which he paid back by 2004. The property was mortgaged twice in 2004—once for $609,000 and again for $592,000. It appears that the loan for $609,000 was satisfied within three years.

This is only a partial rendition of Thornton’s loan activity since he ascended to the bench.

As of 2019, Thornton makes $210,900 a year as a tax court judge. Do the math. Given his income and his loan burdens, is Judge Thornton even able to buy himself a hot dog for lunch?

Thornton’s wife is also employed, although interestingly enough Judge Thornton has asked the federal Committee on Financial Disclosure  to redact her employer’s name from his publicly discloseable financial statements, which he is mandated to file each year. We nevertheless located Alexandra Thornton’s employer, which is the Center for American Progress, where she is working as Director of Tax Policy.

The Center for American Progress, which publicly details itself as “non-partisan,” was founded in 2003 by former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff  John Podesta, who came again recently to national attention surrounding  an email scandal involving leaked emails during his tenure as Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in her bid for the Presidency. Podesta was succeeded as head of CAP by Clinton loyalist Neera Tanden.

In fact, it is well known that the “non partisan” CAP was formed as a left wing think tank to counter the influence of the right wing Heritage Foundation. CAP is funded by The Carnegie Corporation, The Ford Foundation, George Soros, Bank of America, Rockefeller Family and Brothers Fund, Amazon.com and a plethora of other heavyweights.

Thornton’s actions on the bench have raised some concerns. In at least one case, Thornton has made decisions on the bench which directly violate due process rights. A petitioner in a case seated in Atlanta filed a motion to dismiss a Notice of Deficiency (NOD) issued by the IRS, alleging lack of jurisdiction. The original case was filed in March of 2018 and the motion to dismiss was filed on August 30, 2019. The response to the motion was filed by the respondent, the IRS Commissioner, on September 10 but never adjudicated by Judge Thornton. Instead, he went forward to trial, ignoring the problematic NOD when in fact the NOD was improperly issued.

The petitioner protested.

In an order dated August 22, 2019, Judge Thornton explicitly issued the following threat to the petitioner–

In Harriss vs. Commissioner supra, we warned petitioner that his continuing to advance frivolous or  groundless  arguments before this Court could result in substantial penalties in the future. Notwithstanding that warning, petitioner has continued to press the same frivolous and groundless arguments in his motion for summary judgment and in his reply to respondent’s response. We strongly warn petitioner again if he continues to press frivolous and groundless arguments before this Court he may expect a penalty pursuant to section 6673 of up to $25,000 for each of these cases.

In other words, if you keep protesting that your procedural rights are being violated you will be fined $50,000.

It has been eight months since the trial and Judge Thornton has yet to rule.

Thornton was contacted with questions about his loan history and also his failure to adjudicate a pending motion. He has not replied to either set of questions.

The head judge was contacted through the court’s media representative with questions about Thornton’s loan history and has not responded.

Thornton’s loan history, while concerning, is not unique. Using loans as a means to funnel bribes to public officials appears to be very widespread. As  justice in the US has been compromised through this and other practices, our mounting concerns about the most recent attack on our justice system through the coronavirus crisis needs to be put in perspective.  While it certainly appears that our rights are being taken away, it is more than likely that we did not have the rights in the first place. Not a jolly thought but possibly an important one to remember.

There is a positive side to all this, however. As increasingly people are becoming alarmed at the creeping fascism attached to the official corona virus response, we are seeing that more and more people are asking questions as to what is the motive and intent behind this draconian assault on civil liberties. To paraphrase Paul Anka, “Waking Up is Hard To Do” and we now see people doing so in droves. If we have any possibility of reinstating a free and just society, public knowledge and awareness are absolutely critical.


Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking exposé, EXILE. Her articles previously appeared in such mainstream venues as the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Long Beach Press Telegram, etc. In 2004, Janet “jumped ship” and now exclusively writes for independent media. She is also the author of two collections of poetry—The Hitler Poems and Held Captive. She resides abroad. You are invited to support her work on Buy Me A Coffee here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/JanetPhelan

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