Spotlight: Independent Businesswoman


Most of us hardly think twice about the everyday intrusions of government—withholding taxes, regulations, business licenses—even though they may violate our rights. Yet accepting petty rights violations tends to dull our sensibilities, making us less resistant to major violations.

One person who refuses to accept any State intrusions is Jane McLaughlin, a businesswoman in Costa Mesa, California. So strongly does she believe in her right to operate a "sovereign" firm that she spent a night in jail rather than knuckle under to city bureaucrats.

McLaughlin's troubles began almost as soon as she began operating Morningrise Printing last May. Within a week Costa Mesa officials demanded that she obtain a business license, at one point locking her out and threatening to arrest her for burglary for reentering her own business. Her initial resistance to the license was based on the city's demand for detailed information on the license application form. "It's none of anyone's business how much money I make," she told startled officials. "I'm just trying to earn an honest living and mind my own business."

The day after the threatened burglary arrest, police issued McLaughlin a ticket for failing to obtain the license. Thereupon, she began a series of attempts to comply—on her own terms. First, since the city claimed that the purpose of the license is to raise revenue, she sent in a voluntary contribution of $15—half again the amount of the license fee. It was refused. Next, she made three separate attempts to apply for the license in person—subject to a proviso in which the city would agree that in so doing she was not giving up any common law rights. She was refused three times, each recorded on videotape by a compatriot.

By this time city officials were getting angry. On July 5 a judge ruled Morningrise to be in violation of city law. Two weeks later, after denying a motion to reconsider, Judge Selim S. Franklin set a trial date for August 29, later rescheduled to September 26. McLaughlin's legal advisor Hans Sherrer thereupon filed notice with the court stating that she would appear once the city had produced a sworn statement defining the crimes with which she was charged. When the city ignored this, McLaughlin stayed home. Three days later, Judge Donald Dungan issued a warrant for her arrest (for failure to appear). Though the warrant was placed in the mail, two police officers were dispatched to Morningrise that same day to make the arrest, and McLaughlin was hauled off to the Orange County Jail.

Undaunted after 10 hours in the holding tank, her first action after being bailed out was to sue Judge Dungan for 1,500 grams of gold (about $10,000) in damages, for deprivation of due process and possible false arrest. At a subsequent hearing, Judge Frances Munoz agreed with McLaughlin's charge that the city's original complaint was defective and required a new one prepared. She also reduced the bail from $500 to $100. McLaughlin's arraignment has been postponed several more times and had not yet taken place at press time.

Who is Jane McLaughlin and what is she up to? Born 31 years ago in Seattle, McLaughlin started out as a chemist. After some years working in a hospital clinic, she decided to get out because hospitals are so heavily funded and regulated by the federal government. Her aversion to controls and espousal of individualism led her to Orange County, where a group of freedom-minded investors was looking for people to operate "stateless" firms.

Based on a concept developed by Anthony Hargis, these are to be companies operating in accordance with the Bill of Rights and common law principles—regardless of possibly conflicting laws and ordinances. Morningrise is the second in a projected series of enterprises. Others, in various stages of planning or operation, include a commercial printing plant, a Montessori-like school, a transfer and security company, and a chiropractic business.

"I'm not on a crusade," says McLaughlin. It's just that she is unwilling to give up her rights, putting herself in a subordinate position to the city government. Accepting a business license unconditionally under today's laws, she believes, would "destroy the master-servant relationship between the people and the government. It makes the city the master and the people the servant. That's what I object to."

McLaughlin's stand has attracted some sympathetic attention. A front-page story in the Orange County Register was syndicated nationwide, and the paper itself editorialized that she had already won a "moral and artful victory." (She and her legal advisor hope to do better than that, if not winning outright, at least wearing the city down and scoring rhetorical triumphs.) Many other small business owners have expressed support, but none has offered to share in the battle.

McLaughlin, though, is undaunted. "I'm standing up for my rights and what I believe in," she says. "Someone must stand up for their rights, or we won't have any."