Jury finds man guilty of 'paper terrorism'
By JEFF COLE, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Madison - A special state anti-terrorism unit formed after the Sept. 11 attacks earned its first court victory Tuesday when a Dane County jury took only 45 minutes to convict a former Town of Fredonia man of committing "paper terrorism."
The jury of nine women and three men convicted Steven A. Magritz, 57, of seven counts of criminal slander of title - accusations that Magritz filed legal documents against government officials that he knew were bogus.
The charges were filed May 17 after Magritz blitzed three dozen Ozaukee County officials with hundreds of fake legal documents in apparent retaliation for the county's foreclosing on his 62-acre property in the Town of Fredonia.
The county took the property in 2001 because Magritz didn't pay about $30,000 in property taxes. The property, with Milwaukee River frontage, is being turned into public parkland.
The charges were filed by the attorney general's Domestic Security Unit, which has as one of its tasks investigating and prosecuting anti-government activists who try to intimidate government officials, police and citizens by filing false legal documents.
After the verdict was announced, Dane County Circuit Judge C. William Foust ordered a presentence investigation. Foust said he would sentence Magritz in 45 days. Magritz could be sentenced to up to 70 years in prison and fines totaling up to $70,000.
"I am pleased with the verdict because Mr. Magritz caused considerable problems for his victims," said Roy R. Korte, the assistant state attorney general who prosecuted the case.
Magritz was motivated by a simple desire for revenge against county officials he felt had wronged him, Korte said during the trial.
Magritz filed the blizzard of paperwork against the entire Ozaukee County Board and a number of other officials. The charges were based on papers he filed against seven county officials: Ozaukee County Board Chairperson Gus Wirth, Board Vice Chairperson Warren Stumpe, Sheriff Maury Straub, Treasurer Karen Makoutz, Clerk of Courts Jeffrey Schmidt, Corporation Counsel Dennis Kenealy and Circuit Judge Joseph D. McCormack.
Most of those officials played direct roles in the seizing of Magritz's land.
Makoutz initiated foreclosure proceedings against Magritz after she tried for several years to get him to pay his property taxes. She testified it was the first time in many years that Ozaukee County actually had to foreclose on someone who hadn't paid his taxes.
Kenealy filed the formal foreclosure action in McCormack's court, and McCormack ruled that the county could take Magritz's property. Schmidt is the official keeper of the county's court records, and Straub's deputies carried out the eviction of Magritz.
Among the documents Magritz filed were liens for $15 million against about 36 county officials, including the seven officially identified as victims.
He also tried to file 36 involuntary federal bankruptcy petitions against county officials.
A federal bankruptcy judge quashed that effort, but not before the liens led to problems for county officials. Some found that their credit cards had been canceled, others found that their credit ratings had been impaired and, in one case, a house sale was held up.
The county's officials were attacked simply for doing their jobs, Korte said during the trial.
"I consider myself a victim of paper terrorism, which terrorized both myself and my wife," Stumpe said.
Government protesters have a history of using archaic legal language, often rooted in an interpretation of English common law. Because the arguments typically have no standing in modern law, judges don't recognize them in court.
Magritz represented himself during the proceedings. The only two questions he asked of each witness were whether they had "a personal claim" against him and whether they knew of anyone who did.
When each witness answered no to both questions, Magritz would then say: "I request an order of the court be released to me. I request settlement and closure."
"Whether anyone has a claim against you is irrelevant," Foust said. "The charge is whether you filed false liens."
A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 6, 2002.