Man challenges validity of state constitution

Amboy resident says he shouldn't have to pay property taxes

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Amboy man’s attorney also leads case for light-rail foes

The name of David Darby’s attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, may seem familiar.

Pidgeon also represents a group that is challenging a state law that invalidated some signatures on a petition to force a vote on Clark County light rail.

The cases’ common thread hinges on constitutional arguments.

The 75 plaintiffs in the light-rail case contend that the law regarding municipal petitions, which reads, “Signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken,” is unconstitutional.

They argue that the law doesn’t match restrictions on other types of petitions, such as statewide petitions, in which the original signature can be counted.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, who is a defendant in the case, invalidated all of the signatures of people who signed multiple times. He has said that although he personally disagrees with the law, he was obligated to follow it.

The plaintiffs want a judge to order Kimsey to count the original signatures of people who signed the petition more than once.

The group, which spent more than two years collecting the signatures, was 32 names short of the 5,472-signature requirement to secure a spot on the ballot.

If the petition had succeeded, the Vancouver City Council would have asked voters to decide on a proposed ordinance that would have prohibited any city resources from being used to extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing project.

The light-rail case is being heard in Cowlitz County to avoid any conflict of interest. A hearing last week was extended until March 27.

Pidgeon, who made an unsuccessful bid for state attorney general in 2012, also is known for his challenge of Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president.

He is author of “The Obama Error.” In the 2011 book, Pidgeon alleges the president is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and has socialist, communist and Muslim ties.

—Paris Achen

An antigovernment activist has requested a jury trial in Clark County Superior Court to challenge the county's authority to foreclose on his Amboy home.

Dave A. Darby, 68, part of the Sovereign Citizens group, said he would like to use the foreclosure trial to test the state's constitution and property rights. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

"I've been setting up the strategy to do this because no one has ever gotten sovereign ownership of land in the courts," Darby said. "The only way to set it up was to go into foreclosure. … This isn't about my land; it's about the (state) constitution."

Darby claimed historical records show that the state's 1889 constitution was passed illegally. A state constitution was already put in place in 1878, and proper steps have never been taken to invalidate it, he said. The 1878 constitution prohibits taxation of patented land.

Darby said that he patented his land through a complicated process, which includes filing an affidavit and holding a public hearing. That makes him exempt from property taxes, he said.

The county's position is that Darby owes more than $18,500 in back taxes and penalties for his property at 15717 N.E. Grantham Road in Amboy. Congress never approved the 1878 constitution; the valid constitution was approved in 1889 when Washington became the 42nd state, said Doug Lasher, Clark County treasurer.

"The president signed off on (the 1889 constitution), and we've been operating under it since 1889," Lasher said. "If he says the 1889 constitution is invalid, he is challenging every decision made by the state Legislature and every public official. To me, that is beyond the scope of reason."

Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, who is representing Darby in the case free of charge, said Darby's claim is reasonable. His foreclosure trial would be the first time that interpretation of history has been tried in Washington courts.

"Because these issues create a controversy that goes to the credibility of the judicial system, I believe the time is right to put these affirmations to the test before a trier of fact, and to fully present all of the issues so that the courts might have an opportunity to actually rule on the controversy and establish lawful guidelines as to what exists as law in the state of Washington," Pidgeon wrote in an email to The Columbian.

He said Darby is not an antigovernment activist.

"He supports a lawful, constitutional government, both at the federal and state level," Pidgeon said.

Lori Volkman, who represents the county in the case, said Darby's constitutional argument for not paying his property taxes is a first for her.

Foreclosure cases rarely go to trial, and when they do, it's usually because property owners contend that a payment wasn't recorded or that their property's value was incorrectly assessed, Volkman said.

"I've have not had a case when someone challenged the constitutionality of a foreclosure," she said.

"We believe the treasurer has the right to collect taxes; that is his one and only function," she added. "Arguing the constitutionality of that should be interesting and challenging. I'm looking forward to it."

Sovereign Citizens, as a group, generally believes that federal, state and local governments operate illegally and therefore are not obligated to pay taxes to those entities, according to the FBI's website.

Some don't recognize the authority of law enforcement and courts, and several incidences of violence against law enforcement since 2000 have prompted the FBI to monitor the group.

However, Darby said his tactics are aimed at education and persuasion, not violence.

Here are a few examples:

He teaches others about how to become sovereign citizens. He meets with county officials in their offices to explain his viewpoints. And he said he wants a jury trial because he believes he'll have a better chance of persuading a jury, versus a judge, of his interpretation of history.

"(This case) does affect me personally, but I'm trying to teach people there is another constitution that affects all of us," Darby said. "I'm not doing this just for myself, but I'm doing it for Clark County."

Darby said he began researching the history of the state constitution about 10 years ago. Proving that the older constitution is the true one has become his personal campaign.

He hasn't paid county taxes on his property since 2008, according to property records. He paid in full in 2006 and 2007 and paid about half of his bill in 2008. In 2009, he stopped paying altogether.

His intention, he said, was the lay the groundwork to challenge the county's right to collect taxes on patented land.

He tried to challenge the county's authority to tax patented land in federal court in 2010, but a judge dismissed the case.

"The only way I can get into court is for the county to foreclose on me," Darby said.

He won't say whether he has the money to pay the taxes because, he said, that isn't the point of the case.

"I will spend every dime I have to get this all the way to the Supreme Court, if I have to," he said.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.