More than 50 ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters arrested on disorderly conduct charges tied to marches through New York City rejected an offer from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to drop their cases in six months.
About 78 people arrested during a Sept. 24 march to Union Square in Manhattan were scheduled to appear today before New York County Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross. More than 50 of those who appeared in court chose to go to trial rather than accept an offer from prosecutors to dismiss the charges after six months if they’re not arrested again over that period.
The defendants will return to court in January, when they will ask a judge to dismiss the charges, according to Martin Stolar, one of about a dozen attorneys associated with the National Lawyers Guild who are representing some defendants. The defendants face as much as 15 days in jail if convicted of disorderly conduct, said Stolar, who added that he doesn’t expect demonstrators to be jailed even if they are found guilty.
“It has to do with the ambiguity of police instructions where people are told to go somewhere and they won’t be arrested,” Stolar said outside of court. “When people go there, they’re arrested. That strikes me as not justice.”
Demonstrators have been protesting the financial industry, income inequality and unemployment, among other issues, since setting up residence in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Sept. 17.
More than 900 people have been charged in connection with the protests since they began, including more than 700 arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, according to the New York City Police Department.
In court today, nine people accepted the prosecution’s offer. Fourteen people failed to appear, and one case was dismissed. David Rankin, an attorney associated with the National Lawyers Guild who is representing about a dozen arrested protesters, said lawyers are leaving it up to their clients whether to accept a deal from prosecutors.
“We’re making no advice on that,” Rankin said. “A lot of the people believe they did absolutely nothing wrong and they want to prove that in court.”
Vance’s office is evaluating each of the cases individually and assigning them to assistant district attorneys in its trial bureaus, as well as a senior felony assistant district attorney to coordinate and supervise, Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, said in an e-mail.
About 555 arrests related to Occupy Wall Street have been referred to the district attorney’s office since the protests began, with charges ranging from non-criminal violations to felonies, Duggan said. The number doesn’t include summonses, she said.
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office fully supports every person’s First Amendment right to peacefully demonstrate,” Duggan said. “At the same time, we are charged with enforcing violations of the law.”
Noah Shuster, 23, a City University of New York graduate student from Brooklyn, is one of the arrested protesters who rejected a plea agreement today. He said he feels “pretty good” about his prospects at trial.
“It seems like a very obvious bogus case that they made,” Shuster said in an interview after his court appearance.
At least 17 people were arrested today in connection with the protest at Goldman Sachs in New York, including activist and author Chris Hedges, said Patrick Bruner, 23, of Brooklyn, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, in a statement. A total of 3,000 people have been arrested around the country in connection with the protests, Bruner said.
In other protests around the U.S., the Port of Oakland reopened today after demonstrators affiliated with Occupy Oakland shut it down yesterday following an all-day demonstration that drew about 7,000 people to the California city east of San Francisco.
In Seattle, more than 100 protesters weathered pouring rain and temperatures in the 40s to air frustrations as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon spoke at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.
In Atlanta, municipal court hearings have been set for March 9 for 53 people arrested in connection with the Occupy Atlanta movement last week, said police spokesman Carlos Campos.
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