Michigan Court of Appeals hears Keith Wood’s jury tampering case and free speech argument

Posted at 5:20 PM, Sep 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 17:21:35-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Michigan Court of Appeals (MCOA) heard oral arguments Wednesday for Keith Wood's jury tampering case, after his conviction last June in Mecosta County.

Wood is a former pastor and father of eight. He and his attorney David Kallman tell FOX 17 they have been fighting Wood's First Amendment rights since he was arrested Nov. 2015. Yet they were not allowed to argue on the grounds of free speech during Wood's Mecosta County trial last June.

Wednesday an MCOA panel of three judges heard Wood's case. The gallery was half-full, with the majority attending either Wood's family or strangers who have followed his case.

"I think they questioned both sides pretty vigorously," said Kallman, in response to that morning's oral arguments.

FOX 17 broke the case when Wood was initially charged in November 2015. He was arrested passing out fliers on juror rights and jury nullification outside the Mecosta County Courthouse .  He was charged with a five-year felony for obstructing justice and one-year misdemeanor jury tampering as a first-time offender. His bond was set at $150,000 the week of Thanksgiving. Wood says he knew jury selection began for another county trial the day he passed out fliers but said he had no stake in it. That case ended up pleading out without a trial, and no jury was sat. In June 2017, Wood was convicted of jury tampering.

During Wood's initial appeal, his conviction was upheld. Then, the MCOA stayed Wood's sentence and eight weekends of jail time and agreed to hear his appeal. The ACLU of Michigan, Cato Institute, and the Fully Informed Jury Association, which authored the pamphlets Wood handed out, each filed amicus briefs in support of Wood's appeal. Kallman says it's unusual to receive three amicus briefs from organizations spanning the political spectrum.

Read each amicus brief here: ACLU of Michigan; CATO Institute; and FIJA

As he has argued from day one, Kallman believes Wood’s speech is protected.

"This is a pure speech case," said Kallman to FOX 17. "The prosecutor’s trying to make this a conduct case of the handing out the pamphlets, but the case law is clear: that even if it’s conduct, if it’s communicating a message and it’s speech, it’s still protected."

Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede declined an interview but argued before the judges it matters that Wood was passing out fliers on the day of jury selection for another trial. Thiede said prosecuting Wood was necessary, telling the judges, "There wasn't less restrictive means."

Kallman disagrees.

"What [Thiede] is saying is to prosecute somebody criminally, with criminal charges, is the least restrictive means, that’s ridiculous!" said Kallman. "There’s all kinds of less restrictive means: having an area for people to congregate to protest; banning leaflets on certain days; not allowing contact with, once the jurors are sitting, to have them [leave from] a different door of the courthouse."

Now Wood's case rests in the hands of the MCOA, and their decision is likely to be announced within two weeks. While Wood is not interviewing currently, his exclusive FOX 17 interview Dec. 2015 still resonates:

"When [the judge] told me the bond, again I was speechless," he said then, "$150,000 bond for handing out a piece of paper on a public sidewalk? Speechless."