Schenectady DWI defendant claims court has no jurisdiction
Judge rejects ‘Moorish Republic’ challenge
SCHENECTADY An arraignment Wednesday in a drunken-driving case turned unusually contentious as the defendant essentially argued the court had no jurisdiction in his case based on a filing referencing a “Moorish National Republic.”
The proceedings ultimately led to the defendant interrupting the judge, who admonished him that he wasn’t in control of the courtroom — she was.
The case involved Michael W. Lewis of Schenectady. He is accused of driving drunk in Rotterdam on March 19 with a child under the age of 15 in his car. In court, Lewis, 28, appeared without an attorney. He claimed that Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago needed to produce a document called a “delegation of authority” to essentially prove jurisdiction. Without that, he argued, the case should be dismissed.
He filed a document to that effect earlier this month, with the letterhead reading “The Moorish National Republic Federal Government Northwest Africa.” The document claims that failure to respond would result in dismissal of the charges.
“I can’t proceed without a delegation of authority,” Lewis told Drago.
Drago, patient through much of the proceedings, found that she did have authority to preside over the case.
“We’re going to agree to disagree,” Drago said at one point. “You do have the right to appeal my decision with the Appellate Division.”
Lewis returned to the issue multiple times, ultimately declining to answer further questions.
“I’m not answering any more questions until I see a delegation of authority,” Lewis said.
Regarding an attorney, Lewis said he would not be needing “any officer of the court.” But he also was not representing himself.
Drago read him a standard admonishment for those who want to represent themselves.
Finally, Lewis declined to enter a plea. Drago said she would enter a plea of not guilty for him. But he said she couldn’t do that.
“Don’t you tell me what I can or cannot do,” Drago responded. “Here’s the deal: We will agree to disagree, but we are proceeding.”
She then noted she had been “very courteous” to him and that he has a right to appeal.
“I’ve allowed you to make a record, now you allow me to make a record,” Drago said. “You’re not in charge of this courtroom. I am.”
An Internet search Wednesday indicated similar Moorish-related claims have been made by others in legal proceedings. Those claims have led to one group, calling itself the Moorish American Government, to distance itself from such claims on its website.
That group writes on its website that it instructs “Moorish Americans” to abide by the law. It also says it is not responsible for such “pseudo-law tactics.”
Drago did not address the issue of bail, leaving in place bail posted in town court.
Lewis faces a felony driving while intoxicated count based on a past conviction, another felony driving while intoxicated count related to the child in the car and a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child.
If convicted, he faces up to 1 1⁄3 to 4 years in state prison.