Book-burning case to get new magistrate

Paul Dorr of Ocheyedan addresses Sioux County magistrate Dan Pluim on Tuesday morning, March 26, at the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City. Dorr is accused of burning four Orange City Public Library books.

ORANGE CITY—A 63-year-old Ocheyedan man’s request that a mis­demeanor charge against him be dismissed for burning LGBTQ-themed library books last year has been denied.

Paul Robert Dorr has pleaded not guilty to one count of fifth-degree criminal mischief — a simple misdemeanor — in Sioux County District Court for burning four Orange City Public Library children’s books on Oct. 19.

A jury trial in the case has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City. The trial date has been pushed back several times.

Fifth-degree criminal mischief is punishable by a fine of at least $65 up to $625. A 30-day jail sentence also may be ordered in lieu of a fine or in addition to a fine.

According to the motion to dismiss that Dorr — who is representing himself in the case — filed on June 10, the charge against him should be dismissed:

  • On the basis of selective prosecution in violation of his equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.
  • On the basis of selective prosecution in violation of his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Sioux County attorney Tom Kunstle, who is representing the state of Iowa in the case, filed a resistance to Dorr’s motion on June 17.

According to court documents, to establish a prima facie case for selective prosecution, Dorr had to prove the following two elements:

  • “That he has been singled out for prosecution while others similarly situated have not been prosecuted for similar conduct.”
  • “That the government’s action in thus singling him out was based on an impermissible motive such as race, religion or the exercise of his constitutional rights.”

A criminal prosecution that is re­­ferred to as “prima facie” — Latin for “at first look” or “on its face” — is defined as one in which the evidence prior to a trial is enough to prove a case unless there is considerable conflicting evidence presented during a trial.

Magistrate Lisa Mazurek ruled on Monday, July 8, that Dorr “has failed to prove either element that he is required to prove to establish a prima facie case for selective prosecution,” so Dorr’s motion to dismiss was denied.

In her order, Mazurek said there was no dispute between the parties as to the basic facts of the case, such as on Oct. 6, Dorr checked out four books from the Orange City Public Library because he “found messages of the books to be offensive.”

The four LGBTQ-themed library books Dorr checked out were: “Two Boys Kissing,” “This Day in June,” “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress” and “Families, Families, Families.”

Dorr, the director of the Ocheyedan-based Rescuing the Perishing religious group, burned the library books on Friday, Oct. 19, during a planned protest and published his actions, which he had filmed and recorded, in a Facebook Live video.

The burning of the library books — which were damaged beyond use — took place during the three-day OC Pride festival in Orange City. Dorr is shown throwing the books into a burning barrel during the roughly 30-minute-long video.

Dorr pointed out that other library patrons — who had checked out books and failed to return them — were not immediately charged with a crime.

In her order, Mazurek said Dorr was not engaging in the same or similar conduct as other library patrons.

“His actions involved the intentional destruction of the library materials that he had checked out,” Mazurek said. “There is no evidence to indicate that any other library patrons who failed to return their library materials intended to destroy those materials or even whether they did destroy them.”

Dorr argued that the state of Iowa has only pursued a prosecution of him because of the message he was intending to communicate with the specific books he chose to use in his demonstration.

Mazurek said in her order that the prosecution “has a legitimate interest in deterring the action of destroying property” by people who do not own it.

“Mr. Dorr isn’t being sent the message that he cannot burn books when he disagrees with the contents of those books,” Mazurek said. “He is being sent the message that he cannot burn books that do not belong to him.”