It is not uncommon for inmates, particularly those facing lengthy sentences, to file lawsuits and other grievances challenging their convictions. Even though many of these prisoners proceed pro se, they are often surprisingly creative in articulating their theories for relief. Some of the causes of action are very well-crafted. Others are quite humorous. And, then, there is the new complaint filed by South Carolina’s very own, Shaheen Cabbagestalk (yes, it really is his name), challenging the authority of lawyers and judges to perform their jobs, which takes the cake. The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, is captioned Cabbagestalk v. S.C. BAR Head Person of Establishment, No. 5:13-cv-03037 (D.S.C. 2013). Before delving into the allegations of the complaint, we note that this is not Cabbagestalk’s first rodeo. Cabbagestalk is in the midst of an 18-year prison sentence after being convicted of armed robbery in 2009. Since his conviction, he has filed no less than 16 suits against various persons and entities. In our book, 16 complaints in four years elevates him to the rank of professional – and likely vexatious – litigant.
Cabbagestalk’s newest creation arises out of the Titles of Nobility Act of 1810 (“TONA”). The Act reads as follows:
If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.
So what does TONA have to do with lawyers and judges? Well, according to Cabbagestalk:
Most judges, senators, Congressmen, even all federal judges and most presidents are attorneys whom carry these titles. B.A.R. = (British Accreditation Registry) headquartered in London recognized everywhere as the BAR. These dealings are of British nobility. Esquire was the principal title of nobility which the 13th Amendment sought to prohibit from exercising any office within United States. . . . (All Acts) of their government (since 1819) are technically (Null and VOID) under T.O.N.A. Both “Esquire” are targets of the 13th Amendment so the entire Bar of South Carolina is prohibited and all its dealings are (Null and VOID).
In other words, lawyers, judges, and most of the government itself lacks any authority pursuant to TONA and, thus, Cabbagestalk should be set free. Interesting theory, that is. We imagine most were not even aware of TONA prior to Cabbagestalk’s proposal. And for good reason. TONA is not exactly the law of the land.
TONA was proposed as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and approved by by both the Senate and the House in 1810. However, the amendment was never ratified by three-fourths of the states and, thus, never became a part of the Constitution. Some have argued that the amendment became law upon the discovery of Virginia’s apparent ratification in 1819 (hence Cabbagestalk’s 1819 reference). However, even with Virginia’s ratification, the amendment did not reach the necessary magical number for passage. (For a detailed explanation, read here).
In other words, Cabbagestalk’s claims fail on their face.
Even if TONA was, or is, the law, lawyers should still rest easily. As much as many of us wish we did, lawyers do not hold titles of nobility. Lawyers are licensed, and thereby receive their titles, by state bar associations – not the British aristocracy. Article I, Sections 9 and 10 of the Constitution actually prohibit state and federal governments from granting any titles of nobility. Until the Queen starts anointing us all with special titles by the sword upon swearing in, we should refrain from staking our claim to the prevailing social class.
Cabbagestalk deserves some credit for his effort. Discovering the “lost amendment” and deriving a roadmap to relief is not easily done from a prison cell. If nothing else, it led us here at Abnormal Use to do some research on TONA. Otherwise, we may have been concerned about our ability to continue on in our profession.