BY: VERONICA VINCENT

Through Our Eyes, When Justice isn’t Blind is the story of one woman’s fight to protect her civil rights. Her journey through the legal system began in the lower courts and would take her all the way to the US Supreme Court—not once, but twice—in her battle to obtain justice. As she dealt with judges and defendants, who routinely violated her civil rights, her courage, persistence, and determination to fight for the rights granted to her under the US Constitution is an inspiration for anyone who has ever been denied their right to justice.

 

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Through Our Eyes, When Justice isn’t Blind by Veronica Vincent is an eye-opening account of how wrong things can go with our legal system. It is the true story of how one woman went to court to fight for her rights and ended up fighting the legal system itself. Equal justice for all doesn’t mean much if the judges handling your case don’t abide the law and do what is right. I was astounded and amazed at what this poor woman went through. I have never had any dealings with the US court system, and now I am really grateful that I haven’t.

Vincent has crafted a succinct, easy-to-understand account of her experiences that not only makes you more aware of the pitfalls in the legal system, but also gives you a better understand of how the system works. This little book is well worth the time it takes to read it.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Through Our Eyes, When Justice isn’t Blind by Veronica Vincent is the true story of how a woman discovered that if you are a minority, or too poor to pay a high-priced lawyer, you aren’t guaranteed “equal justice.” Vincent originally went to court to stop the plagiarism of her life’s work by people who should know better. However, as her case unfolded, Vincent was soon suing the federal court system for an extreme miscarriage of justice. If the author hadn’t told us that this was a true story, I would have thought it could only be fiction. Unable to afford an attorney to fight for her, she decided to act as her own attorney, taking her case all the way to the US Supreme Court—not once, but twice.

Vincent’s book is packed full of useful information—an absolutely “must read” for anyone who has ever thought about suing anyone for anything. The moral of the story? Know what your rights are, and be prepared to fight for them.

CHAPTER 1

Infringement

In a perfect world, we all would live in the same way, have the same things. But, more importantly, we would all be treated in the same way. The phrase “Equal Justice for All” appears on the top of the US Supreme Court Building, but the fact is that equal justice does not exist for minorities in a court of law. Equal justice can only exist in a legal system when those put in charge follow and enforce the laws as written.

When I entered the courtroom for the first time, I truly believed that, no matter how this case ended, it would be in accordance with the law. I expected to get equal justice—no more than the defendants, and no less. What I know now that I didn’t know before is that the judge hearing your case is more important than money, your attorney, the truth, or the evidence.

There are two types of judges: the kind who believe in the law without exception and the kind who believe that they are the law. If you end up with a judge who believes in the law, the odds are that the decision rendered will be according to the law. On the other hand, if you get the kind of judges that I did, the decision rendered will be based on their personal opinion of you, be it right or wrong. The judges in my case were clearly a type two and ran those courtrooms like their own private plantations.

If you are a minority, then I need not explain what I mean. However, if you are poor and white, it can happen to you as well. The truth and the evidence in your case only matter if you get a jury trial. Under US law, I won my case, so that was not the problem. What caused problems in my case were the illegal things the federal district hearing judges did during those eleven years.

There is a major difference between winning a case and getting paid for that case. As you read my story, there’s no doubt that some of you will agree with what I have to say, either because you have experienced the same thing or know someone who has. Some of you will disagree with the information because you hope that it’s really not true in this day and age. As for the rest, you are going to be amazed by the information and will question how these judges got away with this type of illegal behavior without being held liable for their actions. The real question is, how do you win a case according to law and still be denied just compensation?

Let me assure you that what I have said here is the absolute truth. It’s public record and can be viewed on the Internet. The truth, however, is a funny thing. You have to want the truth in order to hear the truth and be prepared to accept it when it is given.

So, if you don’t want the truth, or are not prepared to hear it, this story is not for you. It probably would help you to understand how I felt, having my rights stripped from me, and what it feels like to be treated as a non-American.

Let me start by saying that I had no choice. It was either fight back or lose my life’s work. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t in my nature to walk away, then or now. I knew that it was not going to be easy and that, no matter what I was truly entitled to, I would be lucky to get one-third of that, but it was worth a fight.

My name is Veronica Vincent. I am a well-educated black female, sixty-three years old, mother of two women, grandmother of three girls, and mad as hell. I am a licensed real estate broker, and I used to be a certified paralegal as well. The first book I wrote was Smart Foreclosure Buying, of which I am the sole owner, with a copyright and service mark on the same.

Originally, I began writing the book in 1992 and decided it was time to get a copyright and a second one in 1994. Since I used the title of the book on everything, it was both a copyright and a service mark, entitled to federal protection.

As a single parent, my biggest fear was not living long enough to see my children grow up to take care of themselves. I wanted to be able to leave them the only thing I had, my life’s experience, to help them go forward in life.

In 1992, I decided to write all that I knew about the foreclosure business and put that information aside for them for the future. It was my hope that it would be enough for them to get into the real estate business to make money and take care of their families. Smart Foreclosure Buying was my gift of knowledge to my children and grandchildren, should there be any. The second most important thing to me as a single parent was to be able to do what was necessary, on a day-to-day basis, for my children.

So, for me, the real estate business was the only way to go. I could do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I believe that people are born to do certain things because they have a talent for it. In my mother’s case, it was numbers. She is an accountant. For my sister, it was science. But real estate and research is my niche. After my mother got her broker’s license, we started the family business of Ford Realty, Inc., located in Oak Park, and, with just the two of us in the office, we didn’t have a lot of overhead. The only way to maintain control of the book, title, and contents was to file for a copyright, service mark, and dot com address, which I did in 1992.

I started by contacting publishers, colleges, and universities to sell my book. At the top of my list was Dearborn Financial Publishing, Inc., Harold Washington College, and the University of Illinois, all in Chicago, to see if there was any interest. My intent was to sell my book outright so that I could put money aside for children to go to college.

Dearborn Financial Publishing, Inc., was not interested in purchasing the book, but thought it would be something Real Estate Education Company (REEC), the educational branch of their company, could use for their online classes.

I contacted Harold Washington College and University of Illinois deans of continuing education. Both asked for a meeting. REEC and I came to terms, under which REEC had temporary access and use of Smart Foreclosure Buying, the book and service mark, while I maintained ownership and sole control over editing. I attended the meetings at Harold Washington College and the University of Illinois, bringing with me a copy of Smart Foreclosure Buying and proof of my ownership in the copyright and service mark, in addition to the class outline that each dean requested.

At the end of those meetings, both the dean of Harold Washington College Continuing Education Department and the dean of University of Illinois Continuing Education Department declined to purchase Smart Foreclosure Buying but offered me a chance to teach a course on the same subject.

Well, this was something I hadn’t expected and had not considered, nor was sure that I wanted it. Teaching was going to be a whole another level. But then again—as a real estate broker—speaking, writing contracts, and explaining the buying and selling process was all I had been doing since I got my real estate license in 1978.

Prior to my acceptance of a teaching position, I requested that I be the only one allowed to teach Smart Foreclosure Buying, to which they all agreed. I taught Smart Foreclosure Buying at Harold Washington College between the years of 1992-1994. I made the same agreement with Wilbur Wright College and other City Colleges of Chicago colleges, with each college choosing one day of the week for their class. I taught four classes.

I taught at the University of Illinois during the years of 1992-1998, for a total of 6 years. After years of teaching, advertising, holding seminars, and working with both students and clients, Smart Foreclosure Buying and I became well known in the local real estate market and at colleges.

I now was teaching as far north as Wright Jr. College, south at Oliver-Harvey College, east at Harold Washington, and west at Malcolm X College. After six years, my knees got too bad to walk from the parking lot to the far end of the college, stand and teach, and then walk back. Since I was also a real estate broker in the family real estate office of Ford Realty, Inc., I decided I could afford to stop teaching.

In January of 2003, I decided that it was time to sell Smart Foreclosure Buying on the Internet to increase our income. We estimated that we could increase our income by as much as $100,000 a year.

Next, we needed to create a website to build the brand. I was amazed at the cost of having someone build a business website for the office. It ran between $5,000 and $10,000. It was decided that I would do it myself. We figured the book was safe enough to sell online, since I had gotten the copyrights and service mark and, as such, was protected by the federal government against copyright infringement. So it was decided to go forward with the website in March of 2003 and we spent $1,500 to run the initial inventory of books.

Sometime mid-March of 2003, I received a call from one of my students who I had taught at Harold Washington College. He told me that he had referred a friend of his to my class. According to him, his friend called Harold Washington College to sign up for the advertised Smart Foreclosure Buying class. Only, when he arrived, I wasn’t the teacher for the class. The student who called knew that I was the only one allowed to teach Smart Foreclosure Buying.

I heard what he said, I knew what it implied, but I just couldn’t believe that the dean at Harold Washington College continued to advertise, use, and make money on my name, copyrights, service mark, and book without permission.

I didn’t want to think the worst or jump to conclusions as to how it all took place, so I did what I do best: research. Within three days, I had done it all. I contacted the school to find out if the same dean who hired me was still there and in charge. I asked about the Smart Foreclosure Buying class and what it covered. I even had Harold Washington College mail out a class schedule so that I could register. Fortunately, my research revealed that none of the other colleges were doing the same thing.

I signed my youngest daughter up for the class and she bought back the name of the teacher. All of the class materials were entitled Smart Foreclosure Buying. In this case, it only made sense to check the Internet to make sure that no one else was illegally using Smart Foreclosure Buying.

As luck would have it, there was another company using my book without permission, and to say that I was shocked is an understatement. The Chicago Board of Realtors advertised one of their classes as Smart Foreclosure Buying. I was totally confused as to how they came into possession of my work. Although, I’m a part of the Oak Park Board of Realtors and I gave them a copy of the book, they wouldn’t have given it to The Chicago Board of Realtors to use or sell. Occasionally over the years, I’ve had a real estate deal or two with realtors in The Chicago Board of Realtors, but I have never done business with the board directly, so they clearly didn’t get it from me.

A case such as this has a two-year deadline in which to file a lawsuit once you discover the infringement. I found out about the violations in March 2003, therefore, my deadline would be March 2005. I issued a cease-and-desist demand letter, as that was suggested in the information that I came across while doing my research.

Under copyright law, the goal is to get the infringers to stop the illegal activity, which is the purpose of the cease-and-desist demand letter. If the infringers decided they had a right of use and continued, I had to file a lawsuit for damages. If, on the other hand, they decided to stop, according to copyright law, they still owed damages for the illegal use.

After three months and no response, I started contacting attorneys, none of whom I could afford. Since I was a certified paralegal, I had done freelance research work for a number of attorneys, but none of them practiced copyright law. Every attorney I contacted told me there was no doubt that I had a case and that companies had violated copyright law.

On my fifth or sixth call, I contacted a local attorney in Oak Park, who actually spent time talking with me. It was like taking a yes and no test. Did I create Smart Foreclosure Buying? Did I retain my original notes? Did I register a copyright and, if so, when was it registered?

“There’s no doubt you have a case,” he said. “But the question is, how much justice can you afford?”

For a moment, I thought I had blacked out and was hearing voices. “What do you mean, how much justice can I afford?”

After a moment of silence, he continued. “You need someone to represent you, hopefully not to go to trial, but just in case this does go to trial, you need to know that this is the kind of case that could take years to settle if the defendants decide to fight for possession. So the question remains, how long can you afford to fight, knowing that the average legal fees could run $100 to $500 per hour?”

After I could speak again, I said, “I don’t mind paying one-third of whatever is gotten from the case.”

After what seem like forever, he commented, “This is the kind of case that copyright attorneys don’t take on contingency. You may have to put up $5,000 to $10,000 retainer before they even look at the paperwork. And just for good measure,” he added, “remember that there’s a big difference between getting justice and being able to collect on that justice.”

Needless to say, I spent the next year calling attorneys, in the hopes of finding someone who would take the case for a percentage or, better yet, do it pro bono (for free).

As an average American citizen who makes an average living, I didn’t have money in the bank on the outside chance that I might have to hire an attorney to help me keep something that already belonged to me. I continued to do research, in case I got lucky enough to find an attorney and, even then, I needed to know, not just what they were doing, but what they were supposed to be doing on my behalf. I also took the time to sit down with my family and explain what I intended to do, the way I would have to do it, and what I would have to do if it couldn’t be done as I intended.

There was no doubt that, either way, it was going to be a life-altering decision for me and my family. It was just as important for them to know that, according to copyright law, my rights to the Smart Foreclosure Buying book, copyrights, and service mark would last for eighty years after I died. This information would prepare them if I died before this mess was settled and it became necessary for my estate to continue the fight.

I’m not an attorney in any way, shape, or form, and I’m not suggesting that it is better to represent yourself than to hire an attorney. But the lack of money left me only two choices: walk away from my life’s work, or if the case was to go forward, prepare to represent myself as a pro-se (acting for myself as my own attorney).

I wish that I had known then what I know now. It would have made a world of difference in how long the case would last.

I’m going to do for you what no one did for me, which is to clear up some of the legal myths that we, as Americans, are used to hearing. The first is that, contrary to popular belief, you are not guaranteed justice in this country, just the right to pursue justice. Actually getting that justice is a separate matter altogether.

Next, there is no such thing as equal rights in our current legal system because judges get immunity from liability when their decisions violate the law and your rights. You should be asking yourself what makes judges better than the rest of us and how this began in the first place.

Remember that this country was divided. So there was slavery in the South and freedom in the North. After the Civil War and slavery ended, judges in the South wanted to continue making racist and unconstitutional decisions in cases that involved minorities. So judges gave themselves the right to “absolute immunity” protection when they violated the law. In essence, absolute immunity says that no judge can be held liable for any decision made by them while hearing a case or carrying out their legal duties, even if they violate the law knowingly, deliberately, and/or with malice or the intent to cause harm.

Do you get that? Judges can violate your rights, as part of their job.

If you don’t do anything else, please read that over and over again until it really hits home. Once you truly understand what judges can do to you, it will change your world.

Let’s remember that the original reason for leaving England was so no one group of people had control over the rest. In this country, there are only two groups of people who control others and make life-and-death decisions for the rest of us: policeman and judges. Those same two groups are the only ones in this country who are protected by absolute immunity. Even the president is not protected under absolute immunity. It is important to note that policemen and judges are protected while they are violating our rights.

In my case, absolute immunity should never have applied, since the judges never really heard my case because they denied me the right to go to trial seven times in eleven years. The truth is that absolute immunity is not a right and not a law. It is just a procedure under federal law. More importantly, it is not supported or backed by the Supreme Court or the constitution. In my opinion, absolute immunity is the most dangerous procedure in the legal system. It is a license to engage in selective racism with the backing of the government, and it allows judges to make personal judgments, regardless of the evidence, thereby denying your civil and constitutional rights at will.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it is okay for any judge—or policeman, for that matter—to violate the law, on or off duty. I know what you are thinking. Would things had gone better in my case if I had had an attorney?

As surprising as it may seem, the answer is no. And here’s why. Lawyers are duty bound to give you the very best representation possible under the law. In most cases, that is exactly what you will get, until it becomes clear that the only way to get “due process,” (which is the right to fair and unbiased legal proceedings) is to fight with the judge. At that point, you are on your own.

Remember that attorneys have to make a living in those courtrooms. No attorney is willing to fight the judge because, the odds are, they are not making enough money from your case to live off of it for the rest of their career and the judges are likely to hold a grudge so that the attorney’s other clients’ cases would have to pay the price of going up against a judge for you.

I completely understand why an attorney can’t afford to back me up. I just happen not to agree with it. So, if there is no other way to get justice, then you are on your own. Make no mistake about it. Judges are just as much a brotherhood as any other groups. Besides, what judge in their right mind wants to give up protection from liability?

Believe it or not, the legal system is not broken. It works for everybody when the law of the land is followed as written. When there is true equal justice, there’s no immunity for anyone, and an honest, fair judge doesn’t need immunity because they fully intend to follow the law. It’s the people we put in charge to monitor, preserve, protect, and dispense the laws, who use those laws and the courtroom as their own personal domain, who need to be replaced.

The laws were written by the people for the people, for the protection of the people, even from the legal system, and, as such, no single group of people should be allowed to change the law of the land at will. There can’t be equal justice for all if any of us is excluded from receiving it, as I have been.

As US citizens, we have every right to expect that the legal system and the employees that we come into contact with are truthful and accountable to every citizen. As citizens of this country, we have to be able to rely on the government to hire, train, and monitor its employees, making sure that they follow the laws as written. When you represent yourself, by choice or otherwise, you are responsible for what you know or don’t know. It is not the court’s job to educate you on the law or how the system works. The judge’s job is to view the case, hear the evidence, and, as a disinterested third party, render a legal decision according to the law.

As I look back on it now, my approach and faith in the legal system was childlike. I consider myself to be honest, trustworthy, and accountable as I was raised to be. I raised my children the same way, and I assumed that was how the legal system operated. Well, I was about to see how wrong I was.

Once I accepted the fact that I had to represent myself, I then spent the next one and a half years trying to understand how the law works and what I needed to do to get it to work for me. I filed a copyright lawsuit in November of 2004, five months prior to my filing deadline. In that filing, I included evidence of my copyrights, my contract agreements with City Colleges of Chicago, and my agreement with REEC, that allowed them three years to print my book in exchange for fifteen percent royalties on all books sold by them.

The copyright office guidelines made it perfectly clear that anyone who violates a copyright has committed an act of infringement and, as such, is liable for damages to the owner of that copyright. It goes even further to say that it doesn’t matter whether that infringement occurred by accident or deliberately, damages were still due and owing. Under copyright law infringement, damages are calculated on a sliding scale and can include punitive damages as well. If the infringement was by mistake the minimum amount of damages is $200 each time there was an infringement, but if that infringement was done knowingly and deliberately, damages can go as high as $150,000 per infringement.

At that point in time, I didn’t know if it was done by mistake or not. I just wanted them to stop. If the defendant had been smart, they would have settled before I found out everything they did.

Since both cases came out of the same cause of action, I filed a copyright lawsuit on November 1, 2004, case # 04 C 7641, against the Chicago Board of Realtors/REEC and City Colleges of Chicago and sent copies of that filing to each defendant by certified mail with a return receipt requested. Defendants’ response was due by December 4, 2004 and our hearing date was set for January 5, 2005, in federal district court at 9:30 a.m.

Believe it or not, the defendants failed to file an answer to my lawsuit, even though the return receipt showed the complaint was delivered and signed for. The law states that if a defendant fails to file an answer to a complaint, the plaintiff is entitled to a default judgment. However, if the defendants can show just cause for missing the deadline, the judge is then allowed to waive the default and give an extension for that filing.

Neither of the defendants filed an answer, therefore, in December, as the plaintiff, I filed a motion for a default judgment, in accordance with the law. Again, they filed no response or made no request of the court. I am sure they thought that, even if I managed to file my case, I wouldn’t have the nerve to show up in federal district court without an attorney. Clearly, they were mistaken. I not only showed up, I got there one-half hour early. When the case was called, I stood and approached the bench, standing next to the defendants’ attorney. We all introduced ourselves to the court.

The judge asked who wanted to start. I jumped in and asked to be allowed to speak first. I told the judge what brought me to this court. I included the fact that each defendant received notice of my complaint and elected not to respond. Lastly, I informed the court that, as allowed by law, I had filed a motion for a default judgment and asked the court to grant a default judgment.

The judge then asked counsel for the one of the defendants for his response. And, you know, he lied through his teeth, stating that his secretary misplaced the filing and they were unable to respond. Common sense would tell you that if he did not know about the lawsuit and when it was filed, then he should not have known when and what time to show up for court that day. I objected but the judge responded that, “In the best interest of justice, I’m going to waive a default judgment and allow the defendants to file their answer within 30 days.”

I asked whose interest and justice. Clearly not mine, or he would have ruled according to the law. Not to mention that if I had missed my filing deadline, the court would have dismissed my case with no consideration. I told the judge that I expected this court to do the same thing to the attorney in this case. He had thirty days to file an answer and chose not to, therefore, he was not entitled to any extension. If the judge waived the default judgment, where was my justice?

Anytime a case is filed, no matter the type of case, the person who is the defendant has thirty day to file a response, unless the defendant is the United States, then the time for filing is sixty days. But, in either case, failure to file an answer is grounds for a default judgment.

This is probably the perfect time to state that, in this country, you must do one of two things: litigate or settle.

But, in any case, the judge responded that his ruling stood, and that he was going to postpone the hearing and set this matter over for arbitration with a magistrate. Both of us would be informed as to the date, time, and location.

Sixty days later, all parties appeared in court on the day and time set up by the judge. I sat on one side of the magistrate and the two attorneys who represented the defendants sat on the other. The magistrate took the time to explain how arbitration works and what it meant to settle. I was allowed to present my complaint and evidence first, then each attorney presented their clients’ response to that complaint.

Each of the attorneys claimed that their client had absolutely no idea that what they were using was either copyrighted or that it belonged to me. To which I responded that I found that hard to believe, given that I gave each of their clients a copy myself, and on the second page it was clearly stated that Smart Foreclosure Buying was written by me and that I owned two copyrights on the same. It didn’t escape my notice that neither of the attorneys provided evidence to support their position or to counteract my complaint. Nor did they provide detailed information on how many times their clients used, advertised, or made money on Smart Foreclosure Buying. More importantly, neither of their clients made a claim of ownership of Smart Foreclosure Buying: the book, service mark, or copyrights. So their defense was that, if their clients committed copyright infringement, it occurred strictly by accident, which would put the damages in the range of $200 for each time that the infringement took place.

After hearing each party’s position, the magistrate asked that I follow him to his office and requested that all other parties remain in court. The magistrate started off by saying that he had been doing this type of work for a long time and had had many pro-se cases before him. However, it was highly unusual to have a pro-se who was as organized and well-spoken as I was. He asked if I was truly willing to settle this matter today, to which I said I was. He then asked that I go out into court, remain there, and send the attorneys into his office.

As I sat in the courtroom, I could hear voices in the office, but not what was being said. After ten minutes or so, the attorneys came out and requested that I go in.

The magistrate began by saying that, no matter what the claim of damages was, it was rare to get the full amount. In most cases, it usually settled at one-third or one-half of what was being asked for. He informed me that the attorneys had offered $3,500 jointly. He asked if I was willing to accept their offer. To which I said no. He asked why not and what amount did I have in mind. According to my research, each defendant illegally used Smart Foreclosure Buying for several years. I had no idea how many times they infringed during those years, but whatever that amount came to would be twice that amount since there were two different defendants—three if you counted the teacher who taught the class.

I was more than sure that $3,500, singly or jointly, was no way near the amount that should be offered. Once again, I was asked to leave and send the attorneys in. Five minutes later, the attorneys came out and I went back in again. The magistrate stated that he managed to get me $8,500 and that it was a lot of money, given the size of the case. I responded that, even though $8,500 would be a starting point in most cases, it was not in this one. The point was that their offer suggested the infringement was by accident when, in fact, I had proof positive that it was not. As such, there was a great deal of difference between the $200 per incident minimum and the $150,000 per incident maximum.

He responded with, “Yes, but you don’t have that kind of case.”

To which I asked, “Are you saying that I don’t have a case or that I have a case that I can’t prove?”

He responded, “No,” and then added, “Get out of my office. You’re not here to settle.”

I responded that I was not willing to allow the defendants to nickel and dime me to death, but I thanked him for his time and left his office.

He followed me to the door, called the attorneys into his office, and told me to stay until he released me.

This time, as I waited, I heard loud voices and very heated conversation, so I started to pack my papers. I just knew this was not going to end well. Just as I finished packing, the attorneys came out of his office as if they were on fire. The magistrate stood at his door and told all of us to get out.

© 2014 by Veronica Vincent