published Monday, April 21st, 2014

Grundy County man seeks to bar Latin in U.S. legal proceedings

Jerral Parris speaks about how he believes the Latin language should be omitted from legal dealings within the U.S.
Jerral Parris speaks about how he believes the Latin language should be omitted from legal dealings within the U.S.
Photo by Dan Henry.

A 72-year-old Grundy County man could learn today whether his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court might change legal history by removing Latin as a language allowed in American law.

Jerral Parris has opinions, lots of them. But core among his thoughts is that every person should be able to do for himself or herself if they're able.

Among other steps toward self-reliance, he's pushed for the building of "frontier communities" using lumber industry byproducts to erect durable houses for a fraction of the cost of a standard home.

His petition to the Supreme Court claims that the use of Latin in courts is a barrier to nonlawyer citizens who want to represent themselves in court.

The first hurdle Parris faces, he said, is the small number of cases the court takes up.

Data from the 2011-12 court session showed 7,654 appeals. The court heard oral arguments on 63, or less than 1 percent.

University of Tennessee law professor David Wolitz said Thursday that Parris' core argument, about a layperson's access to the courts, is a real concern. But the chances his petition will be heard are "infinitesimal."

"I think he generally has a good point that it is very difficult for people without means to hire lawyers to represent their interests in court," Wolitz said.

But the argument that removing Latin would help that isn't so clear.

Much less Latin is used in courts now than a century ago, Wolitz said. Lawyers use some Latin words or phrases that are common to legal language in court filings but rarely in court proceedings.

The origins of Parris' fight are contained in his original lawsuit against Cummins Power South, an engine manufacturing company he collided with while working on the Gulf Coast following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Parris was using a boat for cleanup work but there was more work than one boat could handle. So he went hunting for another boat to expand his operation. He found one for sale at a nearby military base but the engines needed work.

He contact Cummins for a price quote on repair work and says he got a $30,000 estimate. The price was reasonable, so he says he signed a contract and made a down payment. But a short time later, Parris claims, the company doubled the price on him.

"That's bait and switch," Parris alleged.

He took them to court. The legal bills mounted to $60,000 -- more than he'd planned to pay for the engines. So he dismissed his lawyer and began representing himself.

A Florida judge dismissed the case. Parris re-filed, this time not as a company but as an individual.

He lost. Two befuddling terms confused him -- "res judicata" and "collateral estoppel."

Latin? Not entirely.

He appealed, saying that the use of the dead language violated his right to due process. He lost.

Res judicata is a Latin term meaning a matter has already been adjudged, so it cannot be raised again.

But collateral estoppel is an Old English term with roots in French. The term is used to define legal issues that have already been decided in a previous proceeding or ruling.

He appealed again. He lost.

Since that case he's acted as his own attorney, though he did have to pay $3,000 to have his petition to the Supreme Court formatted properly.

Parris has had a few court cases in the past.

An administrative law judge sided with the U.S. Department of Labor in 1996, finding that Parris had allowed youths between 16 and 18 years old to use woodworking machinery, forklifts, chain saws and other devices while working for his company, Parr Construction and Harmony Wood Products.

Two years later Parris ran an unsuccessful campaign for Tennessee governor but lost to John Jay Hooker.

Police arrested him in 2004 on allegations that he attempted to extort of a judge to modify a divorce agreement between Parris and his ex-wife.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction in 2007.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices reviewed his petition from the Florida civil lawsuit on Friday but the decision on whether they'll take it up will not be made public until today at the earliest, according to the court's public information office.

If the justices take it up then Parris will have to argue his point in the nation's highest court.

If they decline, it's over. At least for this case.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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