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By Clair Johnson

What began in September 1992 with Rodney O. Skurdal, of Roundup Montana, getting a ticket for not having a valid driver's license or liability insurance quickly turned into a major legal battle with Musselshell County officials.

Court papers and other documents generated by Skurdal are contained in at least 21 files that fill a cardboard box in the office of Musselshell/Golden Valley County Attorney Vicki Knudsen.

Skurdal's papers range from his "Declaration of War" to an inch-thick copy of the original, handwritten 1889 Montana Constitution.

"I started out frustrated with Skurdal and his followers," Knudsen said. Now, she said, she is more frustrated with the court system's apparent inability to limit activities of people like Skurdal, who challenge the authority of government at almost every level and file numerous documents many say are aimed at clogging the court system.

"They're letting him win minor skirmishes, but his idea of winning is keeping the lawsuit alive," Knudsen said of Skurdal.

"He's a major pain in the butt. He has cost thousands of dollars and wasted time for all of the departments in the county," Knudsen said. "He's not one to be taken lightly."

It got to the point where officials were measuring Skurdal's documents by the pound, not the number of pages, she said.

Skurdal did not respond to requests for an interview.

Last October, state District Judge Roy Rodeghiero issued a judgment permanently barring Skurdal and his "agents, servants and employees" from filing or recording any "frivolous, irrelevant, immaterial, unlawful, invalid or vexatious actions, pleading liens or other documents" with any Montana county clerk of court, clerk and recorder or the secretary of state. Any filings on Skurdal's behalf must first be signed or approved by an attorney licensed in Montana or by a state district judge.

Knudsen sent copies of the order to all 56 counties.

Knudsen said she thinks Skurdal has given up on Musselshell County. "The problem is, he can still help everybody else file," she said.

Before being charged in Musselshell County, Skurdal faced similar traffic charges in Yellowstone County. District Judge Maurice Colberg Jr. eventually ordered the court not to accept any more of Skurdal's filings.

Skurdal is one of several central Montanans who take an absolutist view of the U.S. Constitution and are involved in setting up "supreme courts" in Musselshell and Garfield counties.

Skurdal, 41, grew up in Broadview. After graduating from high school Skurdal said he entered the Marine Corps in September 1971 and was honorably discharged in November 1980. He said his military duties included being a chauffeur and security guard for Presidents Nixon and Ford, a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare instructor and a recruiter at Monroe, Mich.

Skurdal has declared himself a "common law Citizen" of the "Montana Republic," according to documents filed in Gallatin County in March 1992. He is not, the declaration states, a federal "citizen of the United States" under the "so-called 14th Amendment."

In a common law affidavit, Skurdal cites legal references to civil rights for "citizens of the United States." He said those civil rights statutes "DO NOT apply to the white citizens, implying that it only applies to the colored people and jews; and not to the white People."

Skurdal also filed an oath pledging allegiance to the "Montana Republic" and a revocation of power of attorney as it pertains to his "former" SocialSecurity number, birth certificate, marriage license and any other license or certificate issued by governmental entitles.

In long legal notices published in the Roundup Record-Tribune, Skurdal has proclaimed he is a "state," and says his birthright status as an "ALLODIAL WHITE FREEMAN" puts him on equal footing with the original 13 states. He says his rights come from his creator, God, via the Bible, and that he has the absolute right to acquire private property for his own private use. Skurdal further gives notice that, in essence, no public servants will be allowed to trespass on his property.

In another document, Skurdal said that trespass by any "public servant of the corporate State of Montana will be deemed a criminal trespass and a charge will be filed." Trespassers will be charged $100 million.

The statement, signed by Skurdal and stamped with what apparently is his thumb print, further notes that his land and all property on the land is not to be taxed by the "corporate State of Montana nor the Federal Government." In another document Skurdal pegs the value of his property at $112 billion.

Skurdal has traveled to Lewistown and Jordan to talk to people about his interpretation of the law, common law and the founding documents of this country.

Like most other activists in the common law movement, Skurdal has had his own clashes with government.

Last July, the Internal Revenue Service seized Skurdal's four-bedroom log home, other buildings and approximately 20 acres south of Roundup for non-payment of about $29,500 in income taxes. A sealed-bid sale was held last August, but no one bid on the property, IRS spokeswoman Theo Ellery said. When Skurdal failed to redeem the property by the Feb. 15 deadline, the government purchased the land for the amount of the taxes due and plans to sell it at a future date Ellery said.

Skurdal also was found guilty last year by a justice court jury and, on appeal, by a district court jury of not having a valid driver's license or liability insurance, both misdemeanors.

Shortly after the criminal case began, Skurdal sued the county attorney, sheriff, justice of the peace state officers and others. At one point in the case, Skurdal "fired" Judge Rodeghiero for "being ignorant of the law." He also filed a writ of injunction with the Montana Supreme Court and asked that the judge be disqualified.

The high court denied the writ and assigned Judge Colberg to hear the disqualification proceeding. Colberg found no personal bias or prejudice on the part of Rodeghiero and refused to disqualify him.

While the civil case was going on, Skurdal filed liens against numerous public officials. He filed liens of $1 million, to be paid in gold and silver coins, against Rodeghiero, Knudsen, Sheriff G. Paul Smith, Justice of the Peace Robert E. Mihalovich and several others. Skurdal also filed $100 million liens against the governor, the justices of the state supreme court Yellowstone County officials and Billings city officials.

In addition, Skurdal launched two civil suits in federal court. One involving civil rights was terminated. Another involving breach of contract was transferred to a district judge in Eugene, Ore.

In the latest action in the federal suit, Knudsen said Skurdal has requested she answer more than 100 questions, including, "Do you, County of Musselshell, admit or deny that women in public office in the county of Musselshell do not follow the teaching of our Lord and King, JESUS, for no woman is to ever rule or judge over a Man by the Word of God?"

In Rodeghiero's order on the civil suit, he noted that Skurdal is possessed of no special status and is not a sovereign. Skurdal is a "person" as defined in the Montana codes and is bound by the laws in the state, he ruled.

Rodeghiero also found that licensing drivers of motor vehicles is a "justifiable, reasonable, and desirable exercise of the police power of the state" and that requiring drivers to carry liability insurance also is justifiable.

Rodeghiero called Skurdal's actions "malicious and a gross and reckless disregard for the rights of others.... Mr. Skurdal in these matters has been quick to protect, assert and not waive any of his rights, while at the same time trampling on the rights of others.

"Mr. Skurdal's voluminous pleadings, writings and documents are for the most part, incomprehensible and frivolous gibberish based upon common law terms, wording and at times principles that have long been replaced or modified. Such are hard to defend against and have required hundreds of unnecessary hours spent by the Court, attorneys and the defendants."

In addition to barring any similar filings from Skurdal, Rodeghiero expunged the liens from the public record and ordered Skurdal to pay $5,000 in sanctions. Knudsen said Skurdal has not paid the sanctions.

While the order and judgment concerned the one civil case, Rodeghiero took note of the other spinoff suits and actions. "When will it all end?" the judge wrote. "Hopefully now!"

While Skurdal is barred from filing almost anything in Montana without approval, he filed last month to run for justice of the peace in Musselshell County and attached a two-page common law affidavit to his nomination. Although Skurdal maintains he is not a citizen of the United States, he signed his voter registration card, which requires voters to be U.S. citizens and Montana residents.
Clair Johnson is on the Billings Gazette staff
The Billings Gazette

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