Mary Ann Gillispie photograph

Conscience Jails Grandmother of Five

"I was so naive to think that you could get fairness in a court"

    Mary Ann Gillispie is a grandmother of five. She has never been charged with a crime and, until 1991, had dutifully filed her tax forms for thirty-three years. In May of '96 she was brought before a state judge in Helena, Montana who ordered her to fill out state income tax forms. When she refused, the judge ordered her jailed until she complied. She was denied an attorney and a trial, and spent five months in the Lewis and Clark County Jail.

    In a recent interview with The Winds, Mary Ann related that for years she was a good, law-abiding citizen. She began filing her income taxes in 1959. She never got in trouble with the law, had a good driving record and good credit. "I followed the law to the tee," she said. "I was a great little robot without question."

    As a single mother who struggled to support herself and two daughters on $5.00 an hour, making ends meet was difficult. "We scrounged" to get by, never relying on state help, she said. She was further burdened by the taxes deducted from her meager salary. They seemed oppressive to her, especially in light of her small income and the two children that she was raising.

    In the early 1970's she began sensing that something was very wrong in America, but she did not know how to describe it. She had always believed America was just a place that people lived, built their homes, and minded their own business. When she read the book None Dare Call it Conspiracy by Gary Allen, she realized what it was she had already been sensing. "I had the frog syndrome, as most people do in America," she said, borrowing the boiled frog analogy. "I suddenly woke up and jumped out of the water." She realized "a government was out there that had a plan and that plan was to rule the people."

    Mary Ann started going to the law library to study the issue of taxation. She spent "days and weeks" there pouring over tax law and court decisions. She said she learned the difference between "direct taxes and indirect taxes." She realized the "income tax", an indirect tax, was in reality "an excise tax respecting certain activities and privileges," and income was only the means used to determine what that tax would be. She discovered a 1960 Tennessee court decision that declared, "Since the right to receive income or earnings is a right belonging to every person, this right cannot be taxed as a privilege." She found another that said, "The state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution." She concluded that since wages are a constitutional right, they are not taxable. "It is the activity that is taxed, not the income," she observed. Since Mary Ann's only income was from her working wage, she concluded she was not legally obligated to file income tax.

    It was in 1991 that Mary Ann "got brave", in her words, and quit filing her income taxes. After receiving a notice to file from the Internal Revenue Service, she began dialoguing with them over what she had found at the law library. She stated that the IRS agreed with her position. She wondered why she heard nothing from the State of Montana and concluded that the state doesn't follow-up on non-filers because people often move out-of-state.

    It wasn't until the latter part of 1995 that Mary Ann got a letter from the Montana tax authorities demanding that she file. She later learned from a tax attorney that the state had been tipped-off by the IRS over her position on the income tax. She rebutted the demand with the same information she shared with the IRS. The state then filed a complaint against her in the District Court in Helena for refusing to supply the required information. A bench warrant was issued by District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock for Mary Ann's arrest, not on criminal charges, but for a "civil hearing to show cause." In the final days that led up to her arrest, Mary Ann felt confident that she had supplied the proper legal paperwork justifying her refusal to file.

    Mary Ann lives and works in Missoula, Montana, over one-hundred miles from Helena, the state capital. She says that on or about April 17, 1996, she was "hauled out" of the dental office where she works by the Missoula County Sheriff and booked into the local jail on Judge Sherlock's bench warrant. She spent the night in jail and was able to raise the $5,000 bond the next day. Her court date before Judge Sherlock in Helena was set for May 8, 1996.

Mary Ann Goes to Court

    When Mary Ann arrived for her "civil hearing to show cause" in Helena she was directed to wait outside the courtroom. It became evident that Judge Sherlock was talking within the courtroom to Deborah Hartley, the state tax attorney who brought the charges against her, and David Olsen, the state tax program supervisor. Mary Ann said this private discussion between the judge and state officials "really bothered" her, as she was not allowed to be present to represent her interests. After a few minutes she was directed into the courtroom. Deborah Hartley called David Olsen to the stand. He acted as the state's witness in describing the income tax law.

    When it was Mary Ann's turn to respond, she presented a document that detailed the information and court decisions she had found in the law library. "Everything is there, sir," she told Judge Sherlock. Mary Ann said the judge wouldn't even read her papers. He dangled them contemptuously out in front of him with two fingers. "We've heard all this before," said the judge. "You didn't even read my papers," Mary Ann replied. "I don't have to," said the judge. "It doesn't matter what you say or what your philosophy is. Anybody that sits where you're sitting pays taxes or goes to jail. That's the way it is. It doesn't matter what you think or what you say or what you think you found in a law library, we don't even read it, we don't even care about it." She said Judge Sherlock and Deborah Hartley, the state tax attorney, both shared a sarcastic "Oh, we've had a lot of you before" attitude. (see footnote)

    Mary Ann said the entire proceeding was centered around her failure to file, not the non-payment of a tax. "I was brought into court because I hadn't filed. I was a non-filer and they were going to force me to file my income tax." Mary Ann was aware that whatever income information she supplied could be used against her in a criminal proceeding. She agreed to fill out the state income tax forms with the stipulation that the state would not use the information in a criminal case against her. She made this appeal based on the Fifth Amendment's protection against coerced confession. In response to her stipulation Hartley exclaimed, "Of course we're not going give you that!"

    Mary Ann requested more time to seek legal help. Hartley objected, claiming she was just "playing games" and "stalling for time." The judge agreed and denied her request. Mary Ann asked for a public defender to represent her, a request that was also denied on the grounds that she had a job, even though her finances were not discussed. Mary Ann could not afford to hire a lawyer. "You will file," Judge Sherlock told her. "I won't", she replied. "You'll go to jail right now," the judge threatened. "Everyday you spend in jail you will pay the state back. If you use a doctor, you will pay that back, you will pay it all back." Mary Ann believed it was wrong for the judge to force her to incriminate herself and to deny her the right of counsel. "I really believed the truth would come out somewhere along in one of the courts. That's how naive I was", she told The Winds. Because of this belief she refused to comply with the judge's order. Judge Sherlock then ordered her jailed for contempt of court. "You'll stay there until you file," he told her before the court bailiff turned her over to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff.

Mary Ann Goes to Jail

    Mary Ann told The Winds she was kept in a holding cell in the Lewis and Clark County Jail for over ten hours. That evening a jailer looked in on her and said, "Here's your income taxes. Aren't you going to file them?" "No," she replied. Later she heard the jailers discussing whether or not to process her booking. It occurred to her that they may have been thinking, "This benign-looking, naive law-abiding grandmother is going to file these forms because she's going to be scared to death in jail." It's true, it was Mary Ann's first encounter with the law. She was booked into the jail that evening, her home for the next five months.

    Paul Befumo, Mary Ann's paralegal, helped with her appeal before the Montana Supreme Court. The basis of the appeal was the violation of Mary Ann's Fifth Amendment right to due process, the right against self incrimination and the right to counsel. Mr. Befumo told The Winds, " We cited some 9th Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] precedent that said whenever you are threatening someone with incarceration that they are entitled to the same protections they would have in a criminal proceeding."

    When The Winds asked Mr. Befumo if it seemed a little strange that a judge could lock a person up indefinitely without trial or legal representation, Mr. Befumo responded [laughing], "It seems more than just a little strange. We appealed on just those issues. ... You can't just throw someone in jail without having charged them with a crime ... just because they're [refusing to give] the information [that can] be used against them criminally.... What [Mary Ann] was saying was she will give them all the information that they wanted as long as they promised not to use it against her criminally which seemed reasonable to me. It seems reasonable under the Fifth Amendment."

    Because this was ostensibly a civil case, Mary Ann was not entitled to the same rights that the accused in a criminal case enjoy, according to Judge Sherlock, even though she was facing the same type of incarceration. The entire Montana Supreme Court agreed with him, with the lone exception of Judge Treweiler who forcefully objected on the grounds that Mary Ann was entitled to legal representation while being threatened with incarceration.

    After losing her appeal before the Montana Supreme Court, Mary Ann appealed to the U.S. District Court of Montana. After weeks of delays, including the loss of her paperwork in the court system, her appeal was reviewed by Judge Lovell who had just presided over the Montana Freeman trial in Billings. He upheld Judge Sherlock's decision to jail her without legal representation.

Mary Ann Disillusioned

    Mary Ann said that when she read Judge Lovell's decision, she decided she had enough. Her paralegal urged her to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. "How did I think someone in San Francisco was going to be any better?" she remembered thinking. "Paul, I'm tired," she told him. "I took it so far. I really did believe." She asked the jailer to retrieve the blank tax forms she had brought from court with her. They were with her personal possessions. She filled them out and sent them over to the state tax agency. She was released from jail that evening, September 27.

    Mary Ann entered the Lewis and Clark County Jail believing the courts would recognize the validity of previous court cases she had discovered during her research. "I wanted to go through the system," she told The Winds, "because I was naive enough to believe somebody would look at these court cases. After all, they had been through other courts and had [favorable] judgments. That's how I got this information.... Isn't there [a court now] who would see these facts and say, 'Isn't this wonderful? Look at all these judgments that have been made. This is truth.' I really did believe that." Only after Judge Lovell turned down her appeal did she realize she was wasting her time. "I had to capitulate to get out of jail," she said. "The courts say, 'Don't confuse me with the facts'. ... I believe the truth I had, but I don't believe that you can get anywhere with the truth today ... in the legal system.... I was so naive to think that you could get fairness in a court." Mary Ann still holds fast to her convictions over the tax issue. "I'm very willing to lay my life down, for God, not for the taxes," she explains.

    Mary Ann returned to her job as a clerk in a dental office. Shortly thereafter, the state hit her with $9,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Not long after that, the IRS returned with a vengeance, assessing her over $60,000 for the same thing. She now pays $500.00 a month out of her clerk's salary to the IRS and the State of Montana. She says the state and IRS send her letters threatening to seize her entire salary on a regular basis, just in case she's late with a payment. Because she has no assets other than her job, that is what they have attached, she says.

Mary Ann the Greatest Criminal

    Mary Ann remarked that the Lewis and Clark County Jail had to release some prisoners early to relieve overcrowding. She noticed that those with criminal charges were being released early. "One lady was faced with her fifth charge of drunk driving and they let her out," she said. "They wouldn't let me out ... the others were a threat to the populace and the populace should have been protected from them, but they kept me instead. I was against the government. I wasn't a criminal." She said it was Judge Sherlock's way of saying, "I'll make an example of you."

    When asked what her plans were now she said, "I will carry this as far as I can, but I'm not going to run. I know many patriots do, they take a different identity or a different social security number or don't take one. You know, I can't do that. I have to do it right where I am." She has no policy to urge on others faced with a situation similar to hers.

    As a Christian, Mary Ann recognized the obligation to disobey secular government when it is opposed to God's law. She told The Winds, "It seems to me that civil disobedience is correct when the government has run amok upon the people." She added that the U.S. government is "a mockery ... we have a Constitution in name only and that's what bothered me ... I wondered why it was eroding ... how did we get so far off from the mark? ... I felt civil disobedience was correct when [the government] had become corrupt."

    The facts of Mary Ann's case spell out the truth of the American justice system. If someone commits a crime against property or persons, that person will be given a lawyer at public expense if he can't afford his own and a trial before a jury of his peers. If sentence is pronounced, it will be within the limits determined by law. Under due process there is a reasonable expectation justice will be served.

    On the other hand, if a person makes a stand against government authority, especially in the realm of taxation, that person may well be incarcerated without trial, without representation, and for a period of time that is solely at the pleasure of the judge. The charge is called "contempt of court", but in cases such as Mary Ann's, it is the court that is in contempt of the Constitution and human rights. The American judiciary on every level has closed ranks with the great system of financial control that rules America today. Tolerance is shown to crimes against persons and society, while great intolerance is shown to conscientious objectors who resist an extortionate system of taxation and the corrupt governing elite that profit from it.

    The American judiciary may rest assured that they will not escape the effects of their abuse of power. When the rule of law is subverted, even in today's sophisticated manner, the backlash is certain and deadly, and that on every level. When the truth of our national condition is realized and history is considered, it may be understood why some choose civil disobedience, the morally correct thing to do.


Footnote: Courtroom dialogue quoted by Mary Ann in interview with The Winds.

Written 1/15/98


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