As I noted yesterday, the thirteen GetEQUAL activists who chained themselves to the White House fence to protest "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in November, were scheduled to face charges today that they violated the orders of a federal law enforcement officer, charges which carry a maximum six month jail sentence. The unprecedented severity of these charges made some speculate that the government was trying to make an example of the 13 activists.
Before entering the courthouse, Clarknt67 tweeted:
Fighting the man. #DADT #LGBT @GetEQUAL (@ U.S. District Court for DC) http://4sq.com/...
This morning, during the first appearance Federal Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, attorney Mark Goldstone argued that the governments charges were unusual and a marked departure from the treatment from past protesters. And the judge agreed.
GetEQUAL activists had planned to live-tweet the hearing, but their electronic devices were taken away upon entering the courtroom. Upon leaving the courtroom, they announced:
Just got out of court, part 1. Judge compared case to MLK B'ham case and asked prosecutor to come back with diff set of charges at 3pm ET.
Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog has a rundown of what happened in the courtroom. After the defense attorney argued that the charges were unprecedented...
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.)
Seriously? They were "talking politely" and "not being that loud"?
Yeah, uh, here is Corporal Evelyn Thomas being "politely" and quietly taken away:
And there's nothing disorderly here as our own Clarknt67 is being hauled away:
The judge isn't buying it. He's asked the government to reconsider lesser charges and come back at 3pm. If the government doesn't budge, the White House Fence 13 are prepared to go to trial.
Again, GetEQUAL is footing the bill for their attorney fees. If you are interested in contributing to their defense, you can make a donation here. I'll update this diary later in the afternoon (unless I am so doped on cold medicine I can't get out of bed).
Update 1 at 1:45pm
I just caught this tweet from Lt. Dan Choi about the prosecutions argument that the DADT 13 were being polite and quiet on the White House fence.
Deeply insulted in court today when the prosecutor claimed I was quiet on the @WhiteHouse fence. bt.io/Goz8
Update 2 at 4:00pm
Per Eclectablog's suggestion, I have added the text of the tweets below the images. My apologies to those who could not see the images behind the workplace firewalls.
Update 3 at 5:40pm
It looks like the government isn't ready to back down and the DADT 13 are headed back to court in September.
Prosecutor told to dig in heels as she debated whether or not protesters were boisterous - I AM, SOMEBODY & WE DESERVE FULL EQUALITY #LGBT
Judge forced b/c of over zealous prosecutor's unwillingness 2 accept olive branches 2 set 9/19 trial. Judge says, "I am not letting this go"
Trial date pushed to 9/19, amended charges being considered by prosecution.
Update 4 at 6:00pm
More details from AMERICAblog. It looks like the government is hell-bent on federal criminal conviction.
The US Attorney's Office said they still need time. They weren't ready to change anything at this point. So, for now, they're sticking with the more serious criminal charges of "violating the orders of a federal law enforcement officer," which could result in jail time. The prosecutor is basing the charges on Section 2.32 (a)(2) of Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (Interfering with agency functions.) So, why won't the prosecutor change the charges to the lesser -- and more standard -- crime of disorderly conduct or unlawful assembly under DC's code, not federal statutes? The prosecutor apparently doesn't think the protesters were "boisterous." (That's one of the provisions in the DC code for unlawful assembly.) She looked up the definition in the dictionary. Not sure what definition of "boisterous" she looked up, but here's the definition from dictionary.com:
rough and noisy; noisily jolly or rowdy; clamorous; unrestrained: