CAUS

Guest Commentary

T"Bryant v. GILiath": A State of UFOria Subjected to UFOIA

By Larry W. Bryant

Q: What did about 40 persons crammed into a tiny courtroom in Alexandria, Va.'s circuit court on the 23rd of August, 2000, have in common?

A: The opportunity to witness the denouement of a pivotal lawsuit in the ongoing struggle for greater UFO freedom of information and accountability (UFOIA).

Joined by his two fellow petitioners from the Peninsula area of Virginia, UFOIA warrior Larry W. Bryant of Alexandria helped bring to a close another chapter in Earth citizens' legal quest for what their governments know (and they knew it) about UFO reality.

"We've filed our 'petition for a writ of mandamus' against Gov. James S. Gilmore, III because he has both the resources and the duty to help us repel the 'UFO invasion,'" Bryant reminded Judge Alfred D. Swersky.

Bryant was responding, of course, to the governor's motion to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that Gilmore maintains total, unequivocal discretion as to how his office chooses to handle a crisis.

But let's back up several minutes -- to grasp the tone and tenor of this milestone in the public's UFO-awareness quotient.

As court convened sharply at 10:00 o'clock on that uncharacteristically pleasant morning in George Washington's home town, Judge Swersky perfunctorily began sorting through the dozen or so cases on the day's docket. They ranged from one or two divorce cases to the matter of a young man's failure to properly respond to a summons for jury duty; he received a 50-dollar fine.

After about 15 minutes spent on his rundown, the judge called out, "No. CH- 000691." The parties proceeded to their respective tables at the podium. Counsel from the Virginia attorney general's office was the first to proceed, three of these personnel having come up for the hearing from Richmond.

But before signaling the go-ahead for oral argument, the judge had an announcement: some days ago, he'd heard from two news media organizations desiring to videotape the hearing. The first request had come from the Richmond bureau of a Roanoke-based CBS-TV affiliate; the other from the Fairfax-based cable TV station called News Channel 8 (whose reporter was sitting near the front row of the audience).

The judged asked if any of the parties objected to the presence of cameras. From her position near the lectern, the governor's counsel voiced her objection, noting that the case already had received widespread media coverage (including regular updates posted on the Internet) and that allowing cameras in would serve no useful purpose. Turning to lead petitioner Bryant, the judge said, "Mr. Bryant?" And, of course, Bryant chimed in with the affirmative response that, sure, the case had garnered some media attention, but that because of its public-issue content it deserves all the more media coverage. Unpersuaded, the judge declared that the busy schedule facing him might be disrupted by the process of videotaping.

So with that small victory under her belt, counselor Hill began her 5- minute summary of the governor's demurrer. She averred that the subject matter (mainly the UFO/E.T.-abduction phenomenon) had nothing to do with the governor's decision to take no action on the citizens' demand that he help repel the invasive activity being perpetrated by what she terms "space aliens." His decision amounts to a political one -- totally unsubject to any judicial review, she contended.

For his part, Bryant began his argument by determining, for the record, whether the judge had received and read the petitioners' reply brieft to the governor's demurrer. The judge noted that he'd read the pleading.

Then Bryant introduced co-petitioners Condon and Goodwin, noting that none of the petitioners were harboring and personal malice toward their governor and that none of them were seeking to vex him by means of the petition. They merely had presented the petition as an exercise of their First Amendment free-speech rights and the right to petition the governor for redress of a grievance. The judge seemed receptive to that explanation of good-faith intention on the part of the governor's adversary.

Bryant's oral argument began with an analogy: suppose a citizen were to witness an arsonist's firebombing a dwelling. The witness calls to report the crime to the local fire department. "Sorry, fella, we're in the midst of a heavy-duty card game right now, and we don't know when, or whether, we'll get around to responding to the fire," explains the dispatcher. Such a dereliction of duty cannot, and must not, be excused on the basis of discretionary function, Bryant asserted. He cited a recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling reiterating the doctrine that "the governor is not above the law." And the law in this matter clearly states that the governor has a "duty to protect the general welfare" of the citizenry, he said. Bryant offered to amend the "prayer for relief" articulated in the petition, but the judge denied him such an opportunity to reconfigure the pleading. Likewise rejected was Bryant's deduction that Gilmore's wilfull inaction amounts to an impermissible action reviewable and correctable by the court.

At the end of Bryant's argument, the judge turned to petitioners Condon and Goodwin to solicit any comment they might have on the proceeding. Condon noted her desire that the case move forward into the discovery phase, and Goodwin echoed her sentiment. All for naught, of course -- since the judge obviously had made up his mind long before the hearing. He ended the proceeding by sustaining the governor's demurrer, noting that he soon would issue an order accordingly.

But long after its dismissal in this chancery setting, the case of Bryant v. GILiath will endure in the Court of Public Opinion -- fueled by the continuing media interest in the case.

Ironically, as soon as Bryant was interviewed on the outcome by the reporter from News Channel 8, along came counselor Hill outside the courthouse, where she herself consented to an interview by the same reporter. So much for eschewing prolonged media coverage, Ms. Hill.

The object lesson we can draw from this case should appear obvious to most researchers, UFO witnesses, and others affected by or interested in the issue of UFOIA politics: these pioneering forays into UFOlogical jurisprudence at both the state and national levels have been charting the waters for anyone else who wishes to sail forth with her own activist spirit, analytical talents, and long-term commitment to the public's right-to-know and to the government's duty- to-tell. Politics indeed can be swayed by legal confrontation, and legal confrontation can be affected by political considerations. As Americans with a stake in any public issue, we should insist on having it no other way.

After the day's climactic proceeding, the petitioners and the counselors went their separate ways to regroup for their next battle of legal wits.

But for Bryant, one more tidbit of business awaited him in the afternoon mail. It was an official-looking envelope with the return address of the Circuit Court for the city of Alexandria. Inside was a summons -- for him to serve a period of jury duty this September.

Our democracy at work!



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