Arkansas officials who meddled for years with Oscar Stilley were surprised to see his name resurface in a Texas abortion showdown this week, in part because they believed he was serving still a federal prison sentence.
But he was there, on home containment and a self-proclaimed central figure in another pipe-dreaming legal battle.
Stilley, an anti-tax activist and lawyer struck off the bar convicted of tax evasion ten years ago, sued a Texas doctor who admitted to performing an abortion that was deemed illegal under a new law from the State, which prohibits the procedure from six weeks of pregnancy.
The drafters of the ban escaped judicial scrutiny because the law must be enforced by individuals rather than the government. Anyone can sue an abortion provider in Texas even if they don’t live in the state. They get at least $ 10,000 if successful.
Trying to upend legal norms, like this law does, is nothing new for Stilley.
He has spent years using voting initiatives and the judiciary to defend taxpayers and test government officials, supporting six failed constitutional amendments on sales tax, property tax and school choice over of a particularly fruitless year.
Stilley says he’s not personally opposed to abortion. He has no connection with the doctor he sued or the patient who had an early abortion. Rather, he saw an opening in Texas to verify the legality of the new abortion restrictions and potentially collect payment.
“It may just be a case of opportunism and yet another way for him to stir the pot. I think he’s trying to squeeze some money out of it, but maybe he’s also trying to make a point, ”said Bobby Roberts, former director of the Central Arkansas Library System, who has fought the Stilley’s voting initiative in the late 1990s that would have gotten rid of the state property tax and, according to opponents, decimated funding for schools and public libraries.
“That’s the kind of thing this law is going to open up,” Roberts said of the Texas measure. “Anyone who has a goal to set, who wants to make some money or who wants to be in the newspaper – he might be the first, but he won’t be the last. “
The ban went into effect on September 1, ending most abortions in Texas. The Supreme Court refused to immediately block the law, although judges said opponents have raised serious questions about whether it violates the constitutional right to abortion before viability, typically around 22 to 24 weeks.
The court’s conservative majority said abortion providers, who initially sued state judges and clerks, had failed to show that their lawsuit was targeting the right people.
Stilley continued after reading reports about San Antonio doctor Alan Braid, who came forward in a column of The Washington Post to say he violated the ban, essentially prompting legal action. Two other lawsuits were also filed against Braid, including one against another barristered lawyer from the Illinois bar who says he supports the right to abortion.
A state court decision in any of these cases could potentially be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas and reach the Supreme Court of the United States, setting up a direct legal test of the constitutionality of the law.
Prior to Stilley’s conviction of federal tax evasion in 2009, his statewide voting initiatives and long-running lawsuits frustrated officials at all levels of state government, even though Stilley was almost always defeated.
At different times, he sued former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, state treasurer, director of finance, and school leaders. He has previously tried to disqualify Arkansas Supreme Court justices for bias in considering his case.
Jerry Canfield, the longtime attorney for Fort Smith, where Stilley practiced law, recalled what he called frivolous and baseless lawsuits against school and city officials primarily to try to stop the collection of certain taxes .
Canfield and the superintendent of schools were catching up at church on Sundays, he said, and the conversation inevitably turned to, “What has Oscar been up to this week, and what can we do to cope? to him?
Stilley prevailed in a case in the late 1990s by preventing officials from using taxpayer money to pay for new parking for a business that then moved outside of city limits.
He ran for the State Senate but did not win.
Even officials in Arkansas who disagree with Stilley politically say they love him personally. He’s pugnacious and persistent, but not fiery villain. They praise his determination and ability to attract media coverage for his efforts.
Stilley, 58, used her complaint in the Texas abortion trial this week in part to detail her grievances with the criminal justice system and a link to her website, which advertises legal aid services and his book “Breaking down the feds”.
With renewed media attention, Stilley also circulated a photo he staged on his front porch at his home in Cedarville, where he is serving the remainder of his 15-year prison sentence due to the pandemic. In the photo, Stilley leans slightly back in a rocking chair with her left leg raised to show an electronic ankle monitor. The ankle is chained, for effect, with a rusty chain.
Stilley grew up in rural Carroll County, Ark. His father was a Baptist pastor. Her mother cleaned the houses and looked after the elderly neighbors. Stilley dropped out of school after eighth grade and started planting trees for the lumber industry. He was inspired to go to law school, he said in a recent interview, after his boss’s business was ruined by the Internal Revenue Service.
“It’s rude to take money from people who live in tents, work in the mud and have to travel across the country to work. It was the worst wrongdoing, ”he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1994.
After passing his high school equivalency exam, Stilley completed his college education in three years, he said, before continuing to study law at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and s ‘settle in Fort Smith.
He was not deterred by a string of court losses and periods in which he got into debt by borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect signatures on election petitions.
Tapping into the state’s anti-tax sentiment, he garnered enough signatures for his initiative to abolish property tax and replace it with a sales tax increase.
But the state Supreme Court struck down the proposal before the vote, finding forged signatures and inappropriate collection methods.
The potential windfall of some of its proposals was also attractive, as was the case with Texas. One of Stilley’s unsuccessful initiatives to sell the county’s public hospitals would have reduced property taxes, for example, but also paid him a 5% commission on sales.
Stilley’s legal career and political activism was cut short in 2010 when a jury convicted him and a friend of conspiring to hide money and avoid paying taxes through the trust account of the Stilley’s law firm. The friend ran a department on a mission to get rid of the IRS, and the government said neither of the men had filed federal tax returns since the 1980s.
Stilley represented himself at the trial, which took place in Oklahoma. He claims his innocence.
The lawsuit Stilley filed in Texas was not the one proponents of the abortion ban anticipated. Until Braid, the doctor from San Antonio, wrote his article in The post officeThe law seemed to work as expected: Abortion providers in Texas said they were following the new restrictions and sending women to other states to terminate their pregnancies if an ultrasound showed heart activity in the womb.
The Texas Right to Life chief executive called Stilley’s trial a “selfish” legal blow.
But Stilley isn’t one to fear controversy or criticism, especially in court.
When the Arkansas Supreme Court stripped him of his lawyer’s license ten years ago, the court said that Stilley had for years “refused to accept the finality” of court decisions and had “consistently adopted a behavior intended to harass opposing counsel and judges with whom he disagreed. “
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