More Sit-in Cases Dismissed
A second set of Jeff Flake sit-in demonstrators had their cases dismissed in Phoenix City Court in mid-December. They had been arrested in a demonstration at Senator Flake’s office on July 6 for trespass while protesting against the pending vote to repeal the ACA, popularly known as “Obamacare.” After being arrested, the five members of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) were booked into the county jail and released the following morning.
The dismissal took place shortly before the final pre-trial conference, and the PDA members were eager to go to trial. Some had even ordered “Health Care is a Human Right” T-shirts to wear to court. There may be several reasons why the prosecutor decided to dismiss. One is that under the Supreme Court’s Pruneyard Shopping Center case, there is some question as to whether the entrance area of the building was “quasi-public property,” which means that it might be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the defendants were not entitled to all their speech, assembly, and petition rights in front of the doorway. Another reason is that there was an independent witness, National Lawyer’s Guild Legal Observer Dianne Post, who kept careful notes and whose testimony would have made it difficult for the City to prove the necessary state of mind for each of of the PDA defendants to commit the criminal act. Third, the video that the prosecution provided showed that there was no interference with any passage through the doorway or with persons entering or leaving the building, which would also make it difficult for the City to prove intent. The supplemental video would also have made it difficult for the City to prove that the PDA’ers were adequately warned. The prosecutor, who has a reputation for being a reasonable person, may have taken all these factors into account and determined that the proper thing to do here was simply to dismiss.
This is the second dismissal in as many weeks. Victor Aronow, a lawyer member of the Central Arizona Chapter of the Guild, previously announced that the cases against five ADAPT members who were arrested the day before at Flake’s office were also dismissed. At that demonstration NLG member Shannon Brien would have been a key witness as she was a legal observer the entire three hours the ADAPT health care advocates occupied the building.
In this case, there were significant errors in the police reports which became more obvious as the case proceeded, and again, there was a prosecutor who understood that bringing five members of an organization that stood for the rights of disabled persons to adequate medical care was not the right or just thing to do.
The ADAPT defendants, after the dismissal, like the PDA defendants, were pleased that the cases were gone, but a little sad that they were unable to present a political statement about the condition of health care in America. The plan had been to decorate their wheel chairs with little American flags and bunting, and then roll through the court building on the way to trial, but all that will have to be put off for another day.
The takeaway here is that legal observers play an important and indeed critical role in preserving justice and fair play in our court system. Without independent legal observers, these cases might have gone to trial, and these fighters for health care might have been found guilty.
For more information on how you can become a legal observer, simply contact the Central Arizona Chapter of the Lawyers Guild from this web page, and we will get back to you about training.