September 26, 2020

New charges against Supreme Court protesters in videotaped disruption

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Supreme-Court-ProtestBy Zoe Tillman, Legal Times,

Prosecutors on Thursday filed new charges against seven individuals arrested for disrupting arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court last month.

The U.S. attorney’s office filed the additional charges shortly before the defendants were set to appear in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday morning. The late notice drew an objection from Caleb Medearis, the lawyer representing the protesters.

Medearis argued the timing and filing of the new charges violated court rules and hurt his clients, some of whom did not live in the D.C. area.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kacie Weston told Judge Ann O’Regan Keary that the final charging decision was not made until Wednesday evening. Weston said the U.S. attorney’s office review was “beyond the usual processes” based on the unusual nature of the case—the incident happened inside the high court.

Two of the defendants pleaded guilty to three of the charges, including the new counts added on Thursday. Keary sentenced them to five days in jail, with credit for time served, which Medearis estimated would be one or two days. The defendants rejected a sentence of probation.

Following the hearing, Sgt. Michael Thumser of the Supreme Court police, accompanied by Ethan Torrey, counsel to the Supreme Court, served the two defendants—Curt Ries Jr. and Margaret Johnson—with notices barring them from the high court building and grounds for one year.

Keary declined Medearis’ request to sentence Ries and Johnson to only the time they had already served, explaining that they participated in a “significant disruption” of the highest court of the United States, which was not an “appropriate forum” regardless of their political views.

Weston during sentencing drew a distinction between cases involving protests in Congress, which she said is expected to answer to the people, and those at the Supreme Court, which she said is supposed to be an independent body.

The government agreed to dismiss one of the two original charges for engaging in an unlawful demonstration. Medearis argued that D.C. law made it illegal to continue a demonstration after being told to stop by law enforcement, and that his clients were not given any such warning before they were arrested.

Five of the defendants requested additional time to see if they would be eligible for a diversion program, which could result in the eventual dismissal of the remaining charges if they complied with certain conditions. An eighth defendant who was not charged with the two new counts is preparing to take his case to a jury trial.

Speaking after the hearing, Medearis said he thought the government was taking a harder-line approach than in previous cases involving demonstrations inside Congress and other government buildings. He also criticized prosecutors for waiting until Thursday morning to notify him of the new charges.

“It was a very bizarre day,” Medearis said.

Eight people were arrested at the Supreme Court on Jan. 21 as part of a protest against the influence of money in political campaigns. They were each charged under a federal statute making it unlawful to “make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds.” They were also charged under District of Columbia law for engaging in an unlawful demonstration.

Prosecutors on Thursday filed two additional federal charges against seven of the defendants for violating Supreme Court regulations by demonstrating on court grounds and creating a “noise disturbance.”

Weston initially said the government wasn’t prepared to offer a plea deal because her office was still reviewing the case, a situation that Keary noted was unusual. After a brief break, Weston came back and told the court that she had presented an offer.

The one defendant who is not facing the new charges, Ryan Clayton, asked to set his case for a jury trial. He is scheduled to appear before a different judge next week to set a trial date.

According to charging documents, seven of the defendants were accused of participating in the protest—standing up and shouting while the justices were hearing arguments—and one was accused of secretly recording it. A video capturing the incident was posted online. (Watch it here.)

The defendants were members of the organization 99Rise, which coordinated the demonstration at the high court last month. 99Rise co-founder Kai Newkirk attended Thursday’s hearing.

“Clearly what we did struck a nerve,” said Newkirk, who was arrested a year ago for staging a solo demonstration inside the Supreme Court chambers.

Medearis, a D.C. solo practitioner and member of the National Lawyers Guild, is handling the case pro bono. The guild is a national network of lawyers whose work includes providing legal representation in protest cases.

IMAGE: The group 99Rise protest the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, inside the Court, on January 21, 2015.

For more on this story and video go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/legaltimes/id=1202719018149/New-Charges-Against-Supreme-Court-Protesters-in-Videotaped-

 

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