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Judge takes stand in case of woman accused of abusing court system

CherrPhillips leaves Dirksen Federal building after day court where she's accused filing false leins homes US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald other

Cherron Phillips leaves the Dirksen Federal building after a day in court where she's accused of filing false leins on homes of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and other officials Monday 6-16-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 18, 2014 6:24AM

The man who was once Chicago’s highest-ranking federal judge found himself in the unusual position of testifying in his own courthouse Monday.

U.S. District Judge James Holderman — Chicago’s chief federal judge until last year — became the government’s star witness when he took the stand against Cherron Phillips, who’s accused of abusing the court system by slapping a series of bogus $100 billion liens on properties owned by Holderman and other top federal officials.

Phillips, 44, is a follower of the growing so-called “sovereign citizen” movement, whose adherents reject federal authority and clutter court dockets with nonsensical self-penned legal papers, including frivolous liens.

But she became more than a nuisance in 2011, prosecutors say, when she took revenge for her brother’s 2008 cocaine dealing conviction by placing what she called “maritime liens” on properties belonging to Holderman, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, former Court Clerk Michael Dobbins and eight other officials.

Testifying on the first day of Phillip’s trial Monday, Holderman chuckled as he recalled receiving a document from Phillips which claimed he’d been “indicted” for failing to appear before a “people’s panel” of sovereign citizens at a South Side library.

“I told my staff I’d been indicted,” Holderman said, adding, “I didn’t take it seriously that I’d been indicted, but they seemed to be earnest about their intimidation of me.”

Several jurors then smiled when prosecutor Nathan Stump asked Holderman, “Do you owe anyone $100 billion?”

The liens — allegedly filed at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office by Phillips — were discovered later in 2011 when Dobbins tried to sell the parking spot at his condo, only to have the sale blocked, Stump said.

In her opening statement, defense attorney Lauren Solomon gave little indication how she plans to defend Phillips, simply asking jurors to “keep an open mind.”

Fitzgerald and Lefkow are expected to testify Tuesday. But jurors haven’t been told about the 2005 murders of Lefkow’s husband and mother by a deranged litigant in an unrelated case that led to increased concerns about judges’ security in Chicago.

To avoid a conflict of interest, the case is being heard someone who normally sits on the bench in East St. Louis — U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan. Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Southern Illinois federal court district are prosecuting the case for the same reason.


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