It was 2010 and Cherron Phillips was angry that the feds had convicted her brother for selling cocaine.
She had a computer, a $40 filing fee and just enough faulty legal knowledge to get herself into serious trouble.
Four years later, the 44-year-old mother of two paid the price on Tuesday, when she was sentenced to seven years in prison for filing a series of bogus $100 billion liens against some of Chicago’s most powerful judges and prosecutors.
Telling Phillips that her sole aim had been to “create havoc” and inflict “death by 1,000 paper cuts” to targets including former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald and former chief U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman, U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan took the unusual step of handing down a sentence six months longer than even federal sentencing guidelines suggested were appropriate.
“She simply doesn’t get it,” Reagan said after the obstructive Phillips refused to recognize the court’s authority, adding that the bogus liens could haunt her victims’ credit rating and ability to sell property for the rest of their lives.
Phillips — who dated Orlando Magic star Nick Anderson and was until recently a loving and educated mother with a successful career in the insurance industry — made the mistake of joining the growing “Sovereign Citizens” movement, a path that invariably ends in prison, her attorney Lauren Solomon had said in arguing for a sentence of probation.
Relying on arcane and meritless legal arguments that have never prevailed in any court, self-styled “sovereign citizens” claim that federal and state laws do not apply to them.
Defendants who have recently tried and failed to assert the movement’s arguments in Chicago include bank robber Jose Banks, who led a daring, widely publicized escape from the 17th floor of the Metropolitan Correctional Center last year.
So-called “sovereigns” routinely try to gum up court cases with self-penned legal filings and frequently use “maritime liens” to target officials who they believe have wronged them.
But Solomon said the huge liens Phillips filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds were so obviously “ridiculous” that they would not be taken seriously by anyone.
Phillips’ liens were not intended to hurt targets including U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown and U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow but to make a “big loud statement that is as ridiculous as the prosecution of her brother,” as she saw it, Solomon said.
Solomon added that it was tragic that Phillips had fallen under the spell of members of a black power group called the Moorish Science Temple, who had indoctrinated her in “sovereign citizen” ideology.
But she said that though the movement’s ideology was doomed and self-defeating, it reflected anger at ”inequality in America… it’s not fair to say that everyone looks at the justice system as being just.”
Prosecutors, however, said Phillips was motivated by revenge.
“She’s still claiming she was the victim,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Stump, who was himself served with a bogus lawsuit by Phillips.
“But this is a situation she put herself in.”
The liens were “calculated and premeditated” and evidence of the “sad reality that federal judges and prosecutors face,” he added in asking for a sentence of up to six and a half years.
Phillips, who refused to engage with her own attorney for months since her conviction at a jury trial in June, spoke briefly during the hearing to accuse Reagan of running a “star chamber.”
In a strident statement littered with legalese gobbledygook, she said, ”a jurisdictional basis between the court and the defendant was not established.”
But after Reagan criticized her for trying to pick a “smorgasbord of laws” of her own choosing, then went beyond even what prosecutors had asked for in imposing a seven year sentence, $1,000 fine and three years of supervised release, she seemed to waver, and asked to speak to Solomon.
“I guess I’m still confused…” she said before she was led back to her cell.