EXCLUSIVE: The saga of GotNewsDotCom’s #MichaelBrown vendetta, grifting ploy

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Themis 2382The parody news site GotNewsDotCom has managed to get as far as the Missouri supreme court in its quixotic efforts to gain access to the juvenile offense records (if any exist) of Michael Brown. In the process, its editor-in-thief, Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, has managed to raise an unstated amount of money to pursue his vendetta against a dead man.

Since last August, Johnson has contended that Brown, a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, had some kind of felony counts on his sealed juvenile offense records. He based his contentions on anonymous sources on the Ferguson police department.

But, despite spending $15,000 of what he says was his own money and soliciting further donations to continue the legal battle, Johnson has yet to get those records made public. Given that his attorneys’ arguments to the supreme court are not much different from the ones they made to the appellate court, this latest effort may fail, too.

There’s sufficient indication that such records don’t even exist, as court officials on Sept. 3 said Brown had no felonies on his juvenile “record.” Indeed, Johnson was only able to find Brown had been charged with driving with an expired learner’s permit as a teen.

Lacking any clear evidence that Brown was some kind of hardened criminal, he went after Brown’s step-father’s arrest record, and impugned that Brown’s family were members of the Bloods street gang. In his petitions to the Missouri courts, Johnson and his attorneys argue that the “Brown Movement” and the “Brown Super-Meme” rely on the idea that Brown was an innocent teenager shot down for no reason by a white officer.

That officer, Darren Wilson, has since been cleared of any wrong-doing.

Yet, Johnson continues to milk the Michael Brown shooting for donations and clicks to his blog.

To put all of this in some perspective, GotNwes.com has compiled the following timeline from Johnson’s Twitter timeline, his blog and the legal documents he and his lawyers submitted to the Missouri state supreme court on May 6.

Aug. 1, 2014
Johnson tweets he has received $15,000 in funds.

Aug. 9, 2014
Michael Brown, 18, is fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson of Ferguson, MO, police department.

USAToday has a timeline of what happened next.

Aug. 18, 2014
Johnson tweets he has a tip that Brown had juvenile felony arrest.

Aug. 19, 2014
Johnson sends email to Anne Holin of the Missouri courts requesting the juvenile offense records of Michael Brown, saying it is his understanding that juvenile records can be made available once the subject is deceased. He invokes Missouri’s Sunshine Act. (Exhibit A to supreme court appeal.)

[This email is later forwarded by his attorney, Jonathon Burns, to fellow attorney, David Nowakowski, on Dec 3.]

Johnson tweets he has filed an “FOIA” request. [The Freedom of Information Act is a federal law pertaining only executive branch of the federal government.]

An hour after his email to Anne Holin, Laurie Fortenbury, director of judicial administration, replies, denying the request. Judicial records are not regulated by the state’s Sunshine Act, are confidential and not public record, she says. She also advises Johnson that appeals should go to the State Judicial Records Committee in accordance with Court Operating Rule 2.09. Johnson does not proceed with this until after his initial petition in St. Louis circuit court fails a month later. (Exhibit B)

Johnson later tweets, asking for a lawyer to represent him.

Later, he tweets he has retained counsel.

The lawyer is Jonathon Burns, a right-wing activist and associate of conservative provocateur James O’Keefe III. Sources: CNN | Fired Up Missouri | Riverfront Times

Johnson tweets about his ongoing GoFundMe campaign to fund “research,” and solicits donations.

Aug. 22, 2014
Johnson posts on his blog, GotNewsDotCom, about the lawsuit and again mentions his existing GoFundMe campaign (now closed) for “research”. He requests donations be earmarked for the Michael Brown suit.

Aug. 25, 2014
Johnson files motion with Family Court of Circuit Court, City of St Louis. The argument is that the juvenile records are public documents, that juvenile records have been released in past court cases, and that Johnson, as a journalist, has legitimate interest in seeing Brown’s juvenile records. (Exhibit C)

Notably, at the end of this motion, on page 6 of the exhibits, there is the following handwritten note: “No such file exists. [A person’s signature] 8/25/14”

no such file exists

Aug. 25, 2014
Johnson tweets about his GoFundMe campaign again.

Johnson tweets about Brown driving with an expired drivers permit (learners permit?).

Aug. 26, 2014
Family Court motion is entered in Division 11 of St. Louis County Circuit Court. (Exhibit D) A hearing is set for Sept. 3, 2014. (Exhibit E)

Johnson tweets about it.

Aug. 28, 2014
Johnson tweets about the legality of opening juvenile records after a person has died.

Johnson tweets about GoFundMe account again.

Aug. 30, 2014
In a tweet, Johnson says you can’t smear the dead.

Sept. 2, 2014
Johnson’s attorneys file an amended petition, adding GotNews.com as petitioner and further arguments in favor of the records release. (Exhibit F)

Sept. 3, 2014 [Hearing date]
Both Johnson/GotNews.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which had also petitioned to open Brown’s juvenile records, present their cases. Family court representatives reiterate legal reasons for keeping the records sealed, and note that, in any case, Brown had no serious felony charges as a juvenile.

Cynthia Harcourt, a lawyer for St. Louis County Juvenile Officer Kip Seeley, argued against releasing those records, but acknowledged that there were no convictions or active cases for the most serious types of felonies.

Class A felonies include second-degree murder and first-degree robbery; the penalties in adult court range from 10 years in prison to death. Class B felonies include voluntary manslaughter, second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary, with a maximum penalty of five to 15 years.

It is not known whether Brown had ever been accused of lesser offenses; any record of those would be part of a confidential family court file.

Read more at Wonkette.com and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The www.politicsusa.com blog publishes similar information.

Sept. 3, 2014
Paradoxically, Johnson tweets that the hearing confirmed Brown had a record, when in fact no one at the hearing said he did.

Sept. 4, 2014
Johnson tweets and posts about hearing.

My two St. Louis law enforcement sources told me that Michael Brown was involved in a second degree murder and was a gang member. I tweeted it, filed a sunshine request, and was denied. My counsel John Burns and I filed suit.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrongly reported that Cynthia Harcourt, who represents the St. Louis family court, said that Michael Brown had not been convicted of a “serious felony.” (No reporter has asked her what a “serious felony” even means.)

But see above, the Post-Dispatch reported Brown had no class A or B felonies.

He continues.

Juveniles, particularly those involved in gangs, aren’t usually convicted on a first offense. They are usually given probation, a plea bargain, or a reduced sentence.

This purported lack of a criminal conviction is entirely consistent with what GotNews.com sources said.

What Happened Today at #MichaelBrown Juvenile Court

Sept. 9, 2014
Johnson’s motion is denied by Judge Ellen Levy Siwak, Division 11. (Exhibit G)

Sept. 10, 2014
Johnson tweets and writes about denial, and incidentally solicits donations.

In an unprecedented move by Judge Ellen Levy Siewak (sic), the denial confirms that white deceased juveniles may have their records released but black deceased juveniles may not.

Gotnews.com editor-in-chief Charles C. Johnson is debating whether or not to appeal the court’s ruling.

“The law appears to have played no role,” said Gotnews.com counsel John Burns (sic).

If you’d like to donate to defray the costs of the lawsuit, the link is on the side.

BREAKING: Judge Denies #MichaelBrown Gotnews.com Suit

Sept. 19, 2014
Attorney David Nowakowski states he spoke with representatives of the State Judicial Records Committee, and says the request for the records is under advisement. (Exhibit H)

Sept. 24, 2014
Johnson once again contends that Ferguson police sources said Brown had a criminal record. [NOTE: To date, no one has found such a record.]

Oct. 31, 2014
The State Judicial Review Committee denies request to open juvenile records, basing the denial on state law.

“Records of juvenile court proceedings as well as all information obtained and social records prepared in the discharge of official duty for the court shall not be open to inspection or their contents disclosed, except by order of the court to persons having a legitimate interest therein, unless a petition or motion to modify is sustained which charges the child with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a class A felony …, or capital murder, first degree murder, or second degree murder, or except as provided in subsection 2 of this section.” Section 211.321, RSMo.

(Exhibit I)

This committee comprises 11 judges.

Nov. 25, 2014
Johnson tweets thanks to Darren Wilson for killing Brown.

Johnson smears Brown on his blog, posting Brown’s Instagram photos.

Johnson posts on his blog that he will re-initiate the lawsuit, after spending $15,000 of his own (but see above, Aug. 1) money; says he “forced” St. Louis Post-Dispatch to join in the initial suit; says he abandoned suit for lack of funds; then asks for money.

GotNews Is Reinitiating The Lawsuit To Get #MichaelBrown’s Juvenile Records

Nov. 26, 2014
Johnson tweets that he is still pursuing the “criminal record” of Brown, though it is clear by now that none exists.

Also he publishes the “rap sheet” of Brown’s stepfather and alleges Brown’s family are members of the Bloods gang.

Dec. 4, 2014
Johnson and GotNews (as Relators) file with Missouri Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Siwak’s denial of initial petition. (Exhibit N)

[Exhibits J through M are clippings from The New York Times about Brown, Wilson, the shooting and Ferguson.]

The argument is that the legitimacy of the “Brown Movement” and the “Brown Super-Meme” in Ferguson depend on the concept that Brown was an innocent teenager. They reiterate their contention that the death of a person eliminates the need to keep juvenile records sealed, and note there have been cases where such records have been unsealed even for living persons. The appeal further contends Judge Siwak acted without proper authority, and argues on First Amendment grounds the press be permitted access to the juvenile court records. The petitioners say they have a legitimate interest in opening Brown’s juvenile records to see if he was truly innocent of any crime. The appeal asks for a preliminary writ of prohibition and/or mandamus.

[Interestingly, the appeal in a footnotes cites Wikipedia for definitions of falsifiability and refutability.]

Dec. 5, 2014
Johnson posts on GotNews saying they have won the first stage of the appeal.

The court of appeals has ordered that the judge who denied GotNews.com the records has until 12/18/14 to submit a response brief justifying her actions.

In a brief that draws allusions to the Gulf of Tonkin and the Jonathan Gruber tapes, GotNews.com counsel John Burns successfully argued the first round of our appeal.

BREAKING: GotNews Wins First Stage of Appeal on #MichaelBrown Records #Ferguson #EricGarner

If not being thrown out of court is a win, then I suppose he’s technically correct.

Dec. 8, 2014
Johnson tweets that the suit continues.

Dec 18, 2014
The Missouri state attorney general’s office on behalf of Judge Siwak files suggestions in opposition to preliminary writ. (Exhibit O)

The state’s argument against the appeal rests on (1) the records are not public even after a subject’s death, (2) the relators (Johnson and GotNews.com) have not shown they have a legitimate interest in the records or that “their interest outweighs any countervailing interest,” (3) the request to open the records asks for “broad, unrestricted use,” which is contrary to the law, and (4) there are no records of Brown committing any crime that would be considered a felony.

In any event, under the second exception, if Brown had been adjudicated to have committed any offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult, the records of his dispositional hearing and related proceedings would be open records. No such records exist.

It notes that Johnson and his attorneys have not even stated they know such records exist.

The reply also notes that juvenile records have been sealed by the legislature, which means the courts cannot open them, unless the two exceptions mentioned in the Revised Statutes of Missouri apply (See above, Oct. 31.).

Further, it notes that Siwak was within her authority to deny access.

Dec. 18, 2014
Appellate court denies Johnson’s petition for writ (Exhibit P)

March 4, 2015
Johnson tweets that he has taken the case to the Missouri supreme court. In fact, this doesn’t happen until May 6.

March 12, 2015
Johnson tweets he has spent thousands on the Brown case.

and he failed to get access to Brown’s records, and thereby to stop “race riots” from happening.

March 5, 2015
Johnson tweets his true feelings about Brown.

May 6, 2015
Johnson/GotNews files appeal with state supreme court. The appeal repeats the arguments contained in the appellate court petition.

As of this writing, the case has not yet been docketed.

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