Just got a report from Paul Yandura who is at the Federal Court House where the arraignment is for the 13 DADT protesters. As reported yesterday, the protesters, who were arrested on November 15, 2010 in front of the White House, are facing tougher charges than usual for cases like this. The government’s lawyers intend to prosecute the 13 defendants for “violating the orders of a federal law enforcement officer,” which could result in jail time. This is the first time DADT protesters have been in federal court. The other defendants were processed for minor misdemeanors in DC’s court system.
At today’s arraignment, Mark Goldstone, the lawyer for the 13 protesters, explained to Federal Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola that the statute under which the defendants are being charged was unusual. He noted that it had not been used in recent past against people engaging in civil disobedience at the White House. For whatever reason, the government has decided to pursue the more serious criminal charges.
What happened next was surprising to those in the Courtroom. Judge Facciola got up out of his chair, while pacing, gave a speech about the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. He intimated that there were trumped up charges back in the 50s and 60s, too. And, he evoked the Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham case, Martin Luther King’s “letters from the Birmingham jail” and how civil rights protesters were often brought to court to face stricter charges. The judge clearly linked the protest over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to those earlier civil rights protests.
The Judge asked the government prosecutor a lot of questions, including why the government didn’t charge the protesters under the lesser crime of disorderly conduct. Apparently, and I had to ask Paul to repeat this a couple times, the prosecutor said the protesters were talking politely and weren’t being that loud. So, they weren’t being disorderly. (I have a video of the protesters here. They weren’t talking quietly amongst themselves after the first 5 seconds.)
Our side’s lawyer asked the government to reconsider the charges — and the Judge also asked the government to reconsider the tougher criminal charges. He told the lawyers to work it out. Til now, the government has been unwilling to seeking anything but a criminal conviction for “violating the orders of a federal law enforcement officer.” Today’s proceedings have been postponed until 3:00 PM to give the government time to reconsider lesser charges.
So, we’ll know more this afternoon.
Also, importantly, all 13 protesters agreed that they would face trial if the government insists on pursuing the harsher charges.
Yes, this is your government and your tax dollars at work.