He is the Clarence Darrow of pro se lawyers. He
has righted wrongs without legal help from the lowest to the highest courts in
Commonwealth of Virginia. Edward Bender, a 75 year-old Eastern Shore waterman,
doesn't stride, saunter, swagger, strut, or prance into court like some
self-assured prima donna lawyers and judges. A big guy, Ed lumbers into court
with a purpose: To right a wrong, and if necessary, teach the judge and
commonwealth's attorney a thing or two about some basic principles of law.
Such was the case Friday in Northampton Circuit Court. He'd been wronged, he
felt, by Circuit Court Judge Glen A. Tyler and he was there to make it right. He
walked out a winner after a 20 minute argument, leaving Tyler and Commonwealth's
Atty. Bruce Jones licking their legal wounds and agreeing to do what Bender
wanted when he walked in. To have done otherwise would have put them in jeopardy
of having Bender charge them with falsely certifying a court document.
And Tyler didn't want to talk to a reporter with the Virginia News Source
about the case. Therefore, other than the 20 minute court hearing, Tyler's side
of why he interpreted the law one way in not as complete as Bender's. He says, a
"blind monkey could read the law and know Tyler's ruling is wrong."
It all started late last year when Bender who lives in Cheriton got in his
old pickup truck to make a mad dash to the Post Office close to closing time.
Enroute, he was stopped by a Northampton County Sheriff's Deputy. Bender didn't
have a county sticker or state registration or his driver's license and he was
driving without wearing a seat belt.
The deputy wanted to see his driver's license, registration, etc. Bender
explained his license was in his wallet on the kitchen counter at his home -
within sight of where he was stopped. That wasn't good enough for the Barney
Bender explained to wannabee: 1. As a commercial fisherman driving his work
truck, he was not required to have a county sticker or state registeration; 2.
He had a driver's license and would be glad to produce it if Barney Fife would
accompany him home; and 3. He has a doctor's prescription exempting him from the
seat belt law because he has had a tracheostomy, leaving him with a hole in his
Bender was cited anyway and it got him hot under the collar. He chose to
fight and fight he did. It was the principle that mattered. However, Judge
Tyler, who has allowed his personal frustration with Bender past legal antics
color his professionalism, took the case under advisement.
Friday Tyler said, "There was a reason I took the case it advisement. I
knew you'd appeal. The reason I wrote an opinion was for the purpose of
providing a statement of fact you could use on appeal," he told Bender.
In his finding, Tyler found Bender innocent under the state law, but guilty
under a local statue. In preparing his 'finding of facts,' he included his
opinion of Bender's guilt under the local law requiring registration and local
Tyler told Bender Friday, "I suspect there is a misunderstanding instead
of a problem."
Tyler had asked Jones to certify the statement of facts. To have done so,
Bender said would have been to falsify the legal record, an illegal act for
which Jones and Tyler could have been sanctioned.
Bender, dressed in his finest, a pair of clean, but faded Lee blue jeans,
sneakers, a long sleeve knit shirt, suspenders, and the tab of a blue bandana
hanging out of his back pocket, said he wanted the statement of facts corrected.
Otherwise, he would seek sanctions against the pair.
The judge's opinion finding him guilty of the local law should not be in the
statement of facts because it wasn't an issue for which Bender had presented a
defense in the original hearing. "Who brought that up, I don't know,"
Bender said, "I didn't." It would prejudice his appeal, he said. Tyler
wiggled. "All you've told me is a statement of law, not a statement of
facts," he told Bender.
In his raspy voice by placing his finger over the hole in his throat, Bender
fired back, "You have asked the Commonwealth's attorney to certify
something you say you are not going to sign. You can't ask this man to sign this
statement of facts when it is wrong."
Jones waffled. He said he felt Bender would have no problem with the
statement of facts if Tyler removed his opinion from the document. "We're
having a semantic problem," Tyler responded.
In the end, Tyler told Jones to prepare a new statement of facts along the
lines recommended by and that would be acceptable to Bender. "The truth in
your mind is as you perceive it," Tyler said, "Legally it's not a
problem, but we'll fix it anyway."
Now Bender can proceed with the appeal of his $25 fine on the registration
issue: The Virginia code states: No person shall be required to obtain the
registration certificate, license plats and decals or pay a registration fee for
any vehicle...used by commercial fishermen...no more than 30 miles..." from
home or business.
And here is where the blind monkey comes in: Section 46.2-752 states that
counties, cities and town can require registration fees, display of licenses, a
display of a valid local decal. "The amount of the license fee or tax
imposed..."however, "shall not be greater than the amount of the
license tax imposed by the Commonwealth on the motor vehicle, trailer..."
Bender's blind monkey says if the state law says the fee is zero and he's not
subject to any state requirments, how can the local fee and requirements be more
restrictive?. Case closed unless you've pissed old Judge Tyler off in the past
my making him read the law and prove every action he has taken in your other
cases, as Bender has done.
Tyler is so pissed he has issued an order that if Bender brings any pro se
case in any court in Virginia without Tyler's express permission, Tyler will
hold him in contempt. Now Bender thinks that order is unconstitutional and plans
to challenge it soon - the next time he needs to right another judicial wrong
he'll take his blind monkey and go to court with or without Tyler's approval.
Tyler will end up making Bender and the blind monkey famous and himself look
like a fool unless he shapes up.
Bender has been sentenced to jail once, so he ain't afraid of going again to
stand up for his rights. And he won a case in verbal arguments before the
Virginia Supreme Court against the Virginia Atty. General. Asked if he wore coat
and tails or his bib overalls, Bender said he didn't wear his overall, "I
dressed up a little better than that."
After court Friday, Bender went home excused himself, "I have to change
out of my good clothes." He came back a few minutes later in warm up pants
and an open neck knit shirt. Really casual.