Larell Sonnier and Rana Badie arrived in a Gretna courtroom more than two hours late Monday and declared themselves beyond the reach of 24th Judicial District Court Judge Donald Rowan and the rest of the legal system that was seeking to try them on drug and weapons charges.
Sonnier and Badie’s appearance, which included an initial refusal to step beyond the public gallery and to have their hands cuffed behind their backs, came on the same day the Marrero couple surprised their attorneys by filing motions to dismiss the charges against them — citing federal contract law as a basis.
While they did not use the term explicitly, that tactic often is used by so-called “sovereign citizens,” members of a movement that claims the government has no legal jurisdiction over individuals.
Several people claiming to be sovereign citizens have made the news locally in recent years, most recently a group of squatters who occupied a man’s Bywater vacation home and a Harvey couple who rented out homes they didn’t own to unsuspecting elderly women.
In 2014, a former shipyard worker declaring himself to be a sovereign citizen was arrested after subjecting co-workers, Westwego officials and a state judge to a barrage of commercial liens and jargon-filled letters demanding more than $100 million, much of it for using his name without permission.
Sonnier and Badie were arrested on March 26, 2014, after officials said they were found in possession of a firearm and a controlled substance. Sonnier had a Hi-Point .45-caliber handgun, and both were in possession of a Norinco rifle, officials said.
Saying he was making “a special appearance on behalf of my corporation,” Sonnier on Monday refused to step through the swinging gate that separates the public gallery from the rest of the courtroom, saying that doing so would amount to submitting to an authority he doesn’t accept.
He and Badie also insisted they weren’t late, saying their time spent downstairs with the clerks filing their motions qualified as part of their court-ordered trial appearance.
“Mr. Sonnier, you are not here on time,” admonished Rowan, who had earlier issued attachments for their arrest. “It is 11:35. I start at 9:30.”
Additional bailiffs arrived in the courtroom, and within a few minutes, Rowan found the two to be in contempt of court for refusing to come forward and for being late.
Badie, wearing a pink shirt and a gold necklace with an “ankh” symbolizing life, had her hands cuffed behind her back. Sonnier, dreadlocked and wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt, insisted he be cuffed with his hands in front, explaining to bailiffs later that putting his hands behind his back was tantamount to waiving his rights.
“I do not give him jurisdiction over my corporation,” he said while being cuffed.
“Larell, please cooperate,” implored Sonnier’s attorney, Davidson Ehle. “You are making things infinitely worse.”
Rowan ordered the orange-clad defendants in other cases who were sitting in the jury box to be led out of the courtroom and called for a brief recess.
Sonnier and Badie took their place in the jury box and explained their interpretation of the law to bailiffs and to their attorneys as bemused visitors in the gallery looked on.
Told by one bailiff that he wasn’t making any sense, Sonnier insisted, “I’m making a lot of sense.”
After about 10 minutes, bailiffs ordered the courtroom and hallway cleared.
Just after noon, Badie was led down the hall to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center. Sonnier followed, his hands now cuffed behind his back.
Back in the courtroom, Rowan, Ehle and Badie’s attorney, Joe Marino, sorted out what comes next.
Badie and Sonnier will have to reappear for a contempt-of-court hearing April 11, and Ehle and Marino told Rowan they did not support the motions submitted by their clients.
Marino said he would have to confer with Badie about their next move since she is now being held without bail for contempt, while Ehle said he is contemplating a request to see whether Sonnier is competent to stand trial.
“Something is wrong,” he said.
Leaving the courthouse, Ehle and Marino noted that until Monday, their clients had attended multiple hearings without raising any sovereign citizen-related issues and had sat at the defense table without objection.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.