Jailed Topekan maintains innocence.
ANTHONY S. BUSH/TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL
David Price sits at the Shawnee County Jail, vowing he won’t sign an order from the Kansas Supreme Court saying he will stop practicing law.
Created November 1, 2009 at 8:15pm
Updated November 2, 2009 at 2:37am
Shawnee County Jail inmate David Price claims he has been unjustly locked away by the Kansas judicial system, but the state's highest court insists he holds the key to his freedom.
"They are holding me here as hostage until I sign my paperwork," Price, 48, of Topeka, said during an interview at the jail.
Nearly three months after being sent to jail for contempt of court, Price continues to spend his days and nights behind bars. He will stay there until he agrees he won't offer legal advice and signs a Kansas Supreme Court consent order enjoining him of the unauthorized practice of law.
Price speaks quickly, in a subdued southern accent that intensifies and echoes off the brick walls of the concrete visitation room. He lays out his points on his fingers -- bias, prejudices, conflicts of interest, corruption and greed -- before closing his hand into a fist and demanding justice.
"If I sign that document, I'm giving them personal and subject matter jurisdiction," he said. "I'm not about to do that. (I'll stay) until I can prove what they did was beyond the legal scope and beyond what the law requires."
The Kansas Supreme Court on Aug. 4 ordered Price jailed after he failed to appear for an administrative hearing to find whether he violated a December 2007 injunction prohibiting him from the unauthorized practice of law. The court issued a five-day sentence for skipping the hearing to be followed by his indefinite confinement with release pending his signature on the consent order.
It is Price who "carries the keys to his prison," and he may secure his release at any time by complying with the court's conditions, including that he will abide by the 2007 injunction, Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier said on Sept. 23 in denying Price's motion for the court to reconsider its decision.
Price's legal troubles stem from his work with Pro Se Advocates, an organization he claims he formed to assist "pro se" clients, or an individual representing himself in the court system.
In April 2006, the Kansas Attorney General's Office sought an injunction against Price and Pro Se Advocates after receiving a complaint from Topeka siblings Theron and Jennifer Frost, who claimed they were victims of Price's services.
Court records indicate the Frosts paid for services they thought to be legal research and advocacy that included the preparation of legal pleadings to be filed in court and a demand letter to be sent to a former employer of Jennifer Frost. They testified that Pro Se Advocates directed them to sign documents prepared for them.
Price's wife, Rosemary Price, a member of Pro Se Advocates listed in the complaint, said Jennifer Frost needed help filling out forms and understanding some of the legalese. She said the Frosts filed the complaint after Jennifer Frost missed a court hearing, but court records don't list specific damages and Pro Se Advocates wasn't ordered to pay any restitution to the Frosts.
Suzanne Valdez, clinical associate professor at The University of Kansas School of Law, said information that would constitute legal advice under the law has been a bit muddy.
"Help with legalese has been an issue of debate," Valdez said.
For instance, Valdez said, court clerks can provide general information about dockets and court services but can't give advice on legal terminology or instructions on how to fill out forms.
"If you're not sure how to interpret a form or language, or follow through on procedure to have an action filed, you need the help of an attorney," Valdez said. "Those questions will lead to other questions that lead to questions about your case. It sort of opens a can of worms."
Rosemary Price said someone with Pro Se Advocates did ask Frost whether she wanted to pursue her case from a worker's compensation angle or as a sexual harassment case.
David Price said he doesn't believe such help is a violation of law, and is protected under constitutional rights.
"What (the Supreme Court) is saying, what I do in helping people draft documents the way the court requires so it don't get thrown out on technicality, then putting case law behind it to back it up -- they're saying I'm practicing law without a license," Price said. "I'm saying it doesn't."
Knowing the Supreme Court disagreed with his argument, Price engaged in a host of legal maneuvers to delay the 2007 proceedings and have the case heard at the federal level. While the federal courts dismissed his arguments, the tactic worked in that it caused the initial evidence against Pro Se Advocates to be dismissed on a technicality.
Despite the setback, the Supreme Court proceeded to issue an injunction against Price in December 2007, after determining he broke the law during his own hearing by representing fellow members of his organization.
"It looks like he was advocating on their behalf," Valdez said. "The irony there is laughable -- he can't do that."
Sticking with the belief that his constitutional rights allowed him to offer a degree of legal advice to clients, Price defied the 2007 injunction against him by helping represent Mayetta retiree Eldon Ray in an administrative proceeding.
Ray, who was fined $500 by state regulators for acting in the capacity of a licensed architect, was addressing a conflict with Mayetta's zoning board involving his assistance in constructing the Mayetta Christian Church. The state's attorney general asserted Price's dealings with Ray were a violation of the court's 2007 injunction.
Price, who has challenged dozens of judges, attorneys and court officials in the Kansas justice system with a variety of lawsuits found to be frivolous by the state and federal courts, claims the agreement goes beyond practicing law by prohibiting him from offering legal advice in any form. He claims the court broke the law to issue the injunction, that he is a prisoner of a corrupt legal system and the victim of political vendettas. He claims he isn't a conspiracy theorist.
Yet, no attorney in Kansas will touch the case, Rosemary Price said. Two federal courts have rejected Price's motions to consider hearing or dismissing his contempt case.
"I'd like to challenge President Obama and Reverend Wright to come check out this type of Gestapo justice we have here in Kansas," David Price said. "And if he doesn't think this is outrageous, I will put my next bid in for the presidency of the United States."
However, it becomes clear through his own admission that his personal battle with the legal system is deeply rooted in a domestic relations case that went awry. Court files indicate Price filed legal motions for four years to stop the adoption of his biological child after the court severed his parental rights in 2001 and allowed the mother of the child and her husband to voluntarily put the child up for adoption.
Price said the experience spurred his interest in the law, his distrust for the system and the desire to advise others. In talking about the case, Price's demeanor reverts from that of a tenacious debater to an injured fighter writhing in pain.
"You see people every day in the paper that kill themselves, kill their wives, kill their children because of how these courts make them suffer," Price said, sobbing. "They're profiting off our suffering. They're profiting off our children. This has to stop."
Price said he can help people who can't afford an attorney or navigate the legal system.
"My faith and the suffering that people have went through is what keeps me going," Price said. "I'll continue to help people. That maybe I can help someone like Eldon Ray -- they can't stop that kind of help. And I won't stop it."
Pro se problems
While nonlawyers aren't permitted to advise pro se litigants, a committee established by the Kansas Supreme Court found a growing number of people need help in the court system.
Valdez, who serves as a member of the Kansas Supreme Court's Pro Se Committee, said public education through town meetings and allowing limited scope assistance from attorneys may help.
"The pro se litigant issue isn't going to go away," Valdez said. "You'll always have people who can't afford lawyers. Going into it, you want to make sure they have enough knowledge."
The committee found about 68 percent of Kansas district court judges who participated in the survey encounter pro se litigants at least once a week. And more than 25 percent of judges see pro se litigants daily. A statewide survey found court clerks spend at least 15 percent of their time working with pro se litigants. A law librarian from the Wichita Bar Association estimated about a third of the library's patrons are pro se litigants seeking legal advice and assistance.
Among the committee's proposals is the creation of a pilot project for limited scope legal services, which would allow attorneys to assist clients without taking a lead role in a case, thus limiting costs. The committee also recommended providing resource packets to self-represented litigants.
Valdez said it is important to have licensed attorneys helping pro se clients, rather than "advocates," such as Price.
"He's one of the people who probably know enough to be dangerous," she said. "There's a lot of folks in prison that know something, and they become jailhouse lawyers. I don't question their intelligence, but they don't have the formal training."
Meanwhile, Price said he will continue to help people whenever he can -- behind bars or not.
"They put me in a place that I could help people," Price said of his jail sentence. "Now isn't that ironic. God does work in mysterious ways."
Kevin Elliott may be reached at (785) 295-1192 or email@example.com.Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] KS-Family Court Reform Coalition.