DRCNet in Action: Jan Pleas Gets Mixed Results

Earlier this fall, DRCNet members and other supporters staged a letter writing campaign to Judge James Richardson of Council Bluffs, Iowa, asking him to let the jury decide the issue of medical necessity in the case of Jan Pleas, a 37-year-old mother of two teenagers who uses marijuana to relieve the pain of her severe glaucoma.

Attorney Don Fiedler, a former director of NORML, reports good and not so good news. Pleas received probation and a deferred judgment on her tax stamp violation, which means that if she fulfills the terms of her probation for one year, the charges will be expunged from her record. The not so good news is that the terms of probation include periodic drug testing. Pleas and Fiedler plan to appeal the judgment and ask that the probation is stayed pending this appeal.

When DRCNet members sent letters last summer to both judge and prosecutor in the Daniel Billingsly case (Nightmare in Idaho, May issue), they were well received by all parties involved. Judge Richardson reacted less positively. According to Fiedler, the DRCNet internet bulletin on the case had found its way to Judge Richardson, who stated for the record that the letters from around the country did not affect his ruling, and that if any member of the bar (meaning Fiedler) had initiated this campaign, he was "admonished". Apparently a Des Moines attorney saw the internet posting, printed it out and forwarded it to Judge Richardson (whose address was conveniently included). Fiedler, of course, did not initiate this campaign; he simply answered some of our questions, with the permission of his client. We have sent a letter to Judge Richardson explaining this.

If Judge Richardson is able to set aside public opinion, he is less able to see through his own biases. In not allowing Fiedler's motion for a retrial, he cited legal medications that were available, including alcohol, despite the testimony of University of Nebraska ophthalmologist Dr. Yablonski that he had examined Jan Pleas and that these medications were not medically viable. Hopefully the state Supreme Court will consider the actual evidence when it makes its decision.

Fiedler says that if he had to do it all over again, knowing the outcome, he might ask us not to send the letters. However, he doesn't think our actions were improper or even highly unusual, and he is even considering subscribing to The Activist Guide! He also pointed out that not all those reading our notices are our friends; we always knew this was possible but had never before experienced the effects directly. We will be careful, especially if we conduct similar campaigns in the future.

From The Activist Guide, Issue #4, November '94, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.

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