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Rastafarian church leader ordered to trial after unusual preliminary hearing

Rastafarian church leader ordered to trial after unusual preliminary hearing


One of two men charged earlier this month with selling marijuana from a Downtown Madison Rastafarian “church” was ordered to stand trial Tuesday after an unusual preliminary hearing in which the man took the witness stand in his own defense despite warnings from the judge that his statements could be used against him by prosecutors.

At first, Dane County Circuit Judge William Hanrahan seemed content to patiently counteract legal assertions made by Jesse R. Schworck, 39, of Stoughton, some of which were rooted in conventional law, while others had a flavor of sovereign citizen law, which seeks to operate outside the established legal system.

Agreeing to an objection at one point, Hanrahan said a question asked by Schworck to a witness was “not irie,” a Rasta word related to positive feelings.

But when Schworck, on the witness stand at his own choosing, wouldn’t directly answer questions put to him by Assistant District Attorney Valerian Powell — purporting, for example, not to know the meaning of the word “familiar” or the expression “set up shop” — Hanrahan stepped in.

“Are you familiar with the term ‘contempt of court’?” he asked. Hanrahan warned Schworck that he could wind up in jail if Hanrahan ran out of patience with him as he continued to “make a mockery out of the court.”

Schworck is charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, maintaining a drug trafficking place, delivery of marijuana and other charges for allegedly selling marijuana from a storefront at 555 W. Mifflin St., some of it to an undercover police officer.

Schworck contended again Tuesday that marijuana was not sold, but instead was a “sacrament” given to church members, some of whom provided an offering of money to the church. A criminal complaint states that the church’s bank account contained about $40,000.

Despite being charged three weeks ago, Schworck has not yet hired a lawyer or formally applied for one from the state Public Defender’s Office. Hanrahan ruled that Schworck forfeited his right to counsel at the hearing by not taking credible steps to get a lawyer, despite having been told since his initial court appearance on June 6 that he needed to get one.

Schworck has also continued to demand a Rastafari translator, claiming he doesn’t understand what’s being said in court, but Hanrahan said that based on Schworck’s numerous court filings — despite being what Hanrahan called “gibberish” — it’s obvious that English is Schworck’s first language.

Schworck’s co-defendant, Dylan Bangert, is scheduled for a status conference in mid-July.

Hanrahan’s work in court Tuesday, along with that of Madison police Detective Caleb Johnson, the only witness besides Schworck to testify Tuesday, earned both spots as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by Schworck and Bangert that now has nearly 30 listed defendants.

Both Hanrahan and Johnson, Schworck wrote in a filing Tuesday, “trespass upon the property (rights) of i” and that “trespass does cause harm/loss to i.”

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