In a hearing of a case related to the structure erected by Occupy DC known as the “OccuBarn,” a DC Superior Court Judge dealt scathing criticism to the prosecution for failing to meet deadlines for filing motions. Calling their behavior “a gross dereliction of duty” and “lame,” Judge Elizabeth Wingo considered dismissing the case and even the unusual measure of conceding the case on Constitutional grounds. She’s now weighing whether to levy sanctions against them.
Even before addressing the preliminary issue of potential conflicts of interest arising from counsel Jeff Light’s representation of all defendants in the case, Judge Wingo immediately took the opportunity to announce her displeasure with the prosecution’s lapse. To Peter Saba, the attorney standing in for Assistant Attorney General Sean Farrelly, she said, “I realize this is not your case, so you’re somewhat a lamb to the slaughter.”
The OccuBarn was a 15-foot high modular wooden structure erected by Occupy DC at McPherson Park on December 4, 2011. While an emergency General Assembly debated whether to comply with the Park Police order to disassemble the OccuBarn, police went ahead and cordoned off the structure. Several individuals engaged in autonomous action, stationing themselves inside it, while six climbed into the rafters, remaining there for a day-long stand-off with police until the final hold-out was plucked from the roof by a cherry-picker ten hours later.
Occupy DC attorney Jeff Light, who is representing the 14 defendants charged with low-level criminal offenses, filed a motion to dismiss on March 26 and a motion to concede on May 22. The prosecution’s deadline to respond to the motion to dismiss was April 9, which it missed. After the judge inquired twice, they indicated their intention to file in two weeks, a response which Judge Wingo described as “woefully inadequate.” She then issued an order requiring the government to file a motion by May 18, but, she noted, they didn’t even file a motion to “late file.”
As of Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecution still had not complied with the judge’s order, only two weeks before the trial scheduled for June 13. Judge Wingo said it was “the first time she had considered treating a motion as conceded.”
Without raising her voice but in an indignant tone, she proceeded to dress down the prosecution. “Was [Assistant Attorney General] Mr. Farrelly on bedrest for six weeks? What’s the explanation here?” she asked. She also reminded them, “This is not a run-of-the-mill case, [and] it’s going to take extreme organization.” In the most telling moment of exasperation, she said, “It appears to me that the government’s conduct here is so…lame.”
In contrast, she praised the defense, calling Jeff Light’s motion “clearly and concisely argued,” “nicely laid out,” and “very nicely written on a complex issue.” In considering sanctions on the prosecution, she consulted Light, asking him if he knew what measures would be appropriate in these cases.
Peter Saba, the prosecuting attorney, lobbied for a continuance as a sanction, but the judge thought that postponing trial would only penalize the defendants. “You’re saying, ‘our bad,'” she said to him. As he took the tongue-lashing, Saba sometimes revealed a lack of preparation for the proceedings, unaware of the contents of the motions and unwilling to commit to deadlines. He texted his office as the judge spoke to see if they could meet the Wednesday deadline she imposed. “Let me be clear,” she said. “It needs to be filed tomorrow at the latest.”
Still, she voiced her reluctance to concede the case on Constitutional grounds and declined to dismiss the case.
Jubilant defendants greeted counsel Jeff Light outside the courtroom with twinkle fingers, an Occupy signal of approval. Kelly Mears said, “I hope to see more of this… One side of this case cares more about this. This is not just a rote defense, but it is a rote prosecution.”
Caty McClure said she was “glad the judge is calling them out. It’s respect for the process.” But at the same time she said she felt “super disrespected” by the prosecution. Sophie Vick agreed. “My time was wasted,” she said. “I wanted to throw up my hands and storm out.”
Jeff Light however had a positive reaction. “Ignoring deadlines isn’t unusual,” he said. “I deal with this situation all the time. Government entities often don’t follow the rules.” And, he added, “Some judges are more tolerant than others. Judge Wingo took the appropriate tone.”
The prosecution is required to file a response to the motion to dismiss by May 30 and a response to the Bill of Particulars by June 5. It also must turn over additional information to the defense by June 1. The trial is scheduled for June 13-14 at DC Superior Court.
(Photo by cool revolution.net)
UPDATE: All the defendants are charged with “Failure to Obey – Emergency.” One defendant, David Givens, has two additional charges: “lewd, indecent or obscene acts” and disorderly conduct.
UPDATE 5/30/12: Ted Gest, Public Information Officer of the DC Attorney General’s Office, says that Assistant Attorney General Sean Farrelly has filed a response to the motion to dismiss in the case, meeting today’s deadline.