Courtroom hearing verges on theater of the absurd

With his fraud trial beginning next week, Charles Koss apparently thought it was a swell idea to file IRS paperwork stating that his judge also was his financial representative.

After looking it over at a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes appeared to resign himself to a morning in the Twilight Zone. But instead of holding Koss in contempt, he merely ordered the 63-year-old Independence man to stop making frivolous financial filings.

A so-called “sovereign citizen” who has elected to represent himself in his criminal case, Koss is charged with mail fraud, stealing federal disability benefits and trying to pass an illegal financial instrument. Koss never has accepted the authority of the federal courts in his case.

He even was cagey about acknowledging his identity Thursday.

“I’m here as a representative of the Koss estate,” he said. “I’m not here as Mr. Koss.”

Sovereign citizens often view the world through a confusing jumble of commercial, maritime and admiralty law that most lawyers dismiss as magical thinking and gibberish.

That mindset results in legal talk that, to the uninitiated, makes even less sense than normal legal talk.

“I have a certified indictment, which I’ve accepted for value,” Koss said at one point, offering an envelope to Wimes. “I have an arrest warrant, which I’ve accepted for value. … The government has billed the Koss estate, and I’m here to satisfy the debt.”

Actually, the judge merely had asked if Koss planned to submit witness and exhibit lists ahead of trial.

Prosecutors have alleged Koss belongs to a sect that believes that when the United States went off the gold standard in 1933, it pledged its citizens as collateral so the government could borrow money. The government, the theory goes, set up secret trust accounts for every one of its citizens at birth and those with moxie and the right paperwork can access them.

Koss is alleged to have tried to repay more than $212,727.60 in fraudulently obtained disability payments with a “registered private money order” drawn on just such an account.

The hearing thumped along for about an hour, like a car rolling on a flat tire and misfiring on two cylinders.

But as Wimes steeled himself for trial, he did what most judges do: He was patient, he allowed the defendant to have his say and he steered the discussion back to trial preparation.

The absurd never was too far away, though.

“Mr. Koss,” Wimes said near the end of the hearing.

“Your honor,” Koss interrupted, “unless you have a contract with me that allows you to call me Mr. Koss, I’d appreciate it if you called me Chuck.”

Wimes ignored the suggestion. Finished his thought.

And moved on.