Judge Teresa R. Warner, perched above the packed Courtroom 131 B in Ramsey County Courthouse. A special hearing had been called to allow the 4 remaining defendants in the notorious RNC 8 case to agree to settle their cases with a plea bargain, thus avoiding the 4-6 week jury trial scheduled for beginning next week. She listened as each of the four young men pled “guilty” to either a charge of “conspiracy to commit damage to property in the third degree” or “conspiracy to riot in the 3rd degree”.
She meticulously insisted that each of the defense attorneys go over what rights the defendants were “giving up” in exchange for their pleas: the right to a jury trial, the right to confront the witnesses, the right to testify oneself, … and on and on – as though these “rights” could somehow even the scales of “justice” when the State retained almost unlimited resources in the desire to win a conviction.
The prosecutors and the defendants (and their lawyers) had agreed to a plea bargain over the weekend: in exchange for a guilty plea, the State would ask for no jail time, no restitution, credit for “time served” after arrest, and agree not to force them to testify against other defendants about incidents around the Republican National Convention in September 2008. They recommended that those pleading guilty be given 100 hours of “Community Service” and requested a 2-year probation period be placed on each of the four.
Each of the Defense lawyers asked the Judge to “stay” (suspend) execution of her sentence for a shorter period of probation until the community service could be performed. Noting that each of the defendants had limited income and had all qualified for court-appointed attorneys due to their economic status, they also asked any fines be limited as well.
One-by-one, each of the four defendants came before the Judge, accepted the guilty plea, and was then asked if they had anything further to say before they were sentenced. Nathanael Secor stated that this case was about the criminalization of dissent. He said that while he was guilty of violating the law, local law enforcement personnel did “many acts” which were also illegal and have not been charged. He commented about the police being part of a network of “social control” which allowed the furtherance of “colonial wars”. He reiterated his desire to “abolish institutions of domination”.
Judge Warner, in preferencing her sentence, stated that she was sentencing Mr. Secor for “his acts, not his political beliefs or motivations”. She stressed she was following the law; he pled guilty to violating the law and was being sentenced for his actions, not his beliefs. After giving him “180 days in jail and a $1000 fine” she then said she would stay the execution of that sentence in exchange for one year of supervised probation (remaining law-abiding with no same or similar offenses and abiding by all the rules of the probation), 100 hours of community service, no more than 10 hours per month for 10 months, no restitution, would not be compelled to testify against others in related cases, and fined $200 plus court cost fees of $81.
Max Specktor was the next defendant to stand before Judge Warner. After his guilty plea, he stated that “conspiracy is only part of the story.” He decried the “spectacle of democracy” that we claim is practiced in the U.S., claiming he preferred to live in a more “decentralized world”. He preferred to address real economic needs he sees: “real needs versus conspicuous consumption”. “I refuse to sleep-walk through life”, he continued. He recognized that he and other defendants have had a lot of privileges in life, including being able to speak on their own behalf while “many too others lack those privileges.” He ended by saying he was committed to help “build the world we wish to see.”
Again, Judge Warner went out of her way to claim her sentence “is based on your acts, not your motivation.” It is what she feels is “appropriate, fair, and just.” It is not about “political opinions or ideals”. To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Methinks the Lady doth protest too much.”
This case is all about politics. From pre-emptive house raids to ridiculous trumped-up felony charges alleging “terrorism”, it has been from start-to-finish about “politics”. It was about politics to dismiss the charges against both the women and another male defendant. The County Attorney who brought the initial charges was running for Governor as a tough law-and-order candidate. And then there is the real reason any charges were brought at all: Sheriff Bob Fletcher. Most of what he does is political – playing to his political base while mired up to his eyeballs in corruption. His press conferences just prior to the Republican National Convention were designed to ramp up fear and hysteria about “anarchists” coming to his city to create mayhem. For me, the biggest tragedy of this plea bargain deal is that we won’t get to see Sheriff Fletcher in the witness chair, facing committed movement lawyers about what he did and why before and during the Convention.
But the most significant reason this case is all about politics is the utter silence in the courtroom about the grossest violation of law: what the Nuremberg Tribunal calls the supreme international crime: “to initiate a war of aggression”. The main reason thousands of citizens came to protest at the RNC centered around two wars initiated by the President of the United States in contravention of the United Nations Charter. For the court to pretend to strictly follow “the law” while ignoring the context of the war is not only disingenuous but absurd. The fact that both these wars continue (and continue to be ignored by both the media and the courts) is an indictment on our entire society.
Spector’s sentence differed only in the fine amount: $500 rather than $1,000 – most likely due to the different sentencing guidelines between conspiracy to riot rather than to commit property damage.
Rob Czernik followed with his statement of “proudly” when asked if he was guilty-as-charged. His answers of “yep” and “nope” to the questions asked him by the Judge and attorneys certainly did nothing to endear him to the Judge. When asked if he wanted to make a pre-sentencing statement, he responded, “Nope. Get on with it.” Judge Warner gave him two years of supervised probation instead of the one year the two prior defendants received. When asked by his attorney, Jordan Kushner, about the discrepancy, Judge Warner responded briskly that she wasn’t about to negotiate. Her decision was the “court’s discretion”. Excuse me, but “politics aside”, is such a statement from the court based “entirely on ‘the law'”? I doubt it.
Finally, Garrett Fitzgerald was the last defendant. He talked about the dedication of “his whole life to community”. He lives a life of voluntary poverty and sobriety. He was not “wanton” in breaking the law; he broke the law on the basis of his principles. He too claimed that he and the other defendants were specifically targeted for their “political beliefs”. After being cut-off by the Judge from reading a passage from Dr. Suess’ book, The Lorax, Fitzgerald concluded, “What we allow and what we don’t allow says a lot about our society.”
He must have struck a nerve: he got the extra year of probation as well.
I left the Courtroom with a conviction reaffirmed: the law is inherently political. These “laws”, especially protecting “property” do not come down from Mount Sinai; members of our legislature whose election is more often than not determined by who has the most money hash them out. Governors or Presidents who are also “elected” by a money-polluted system then appoint judges. Our system of check-and-balances counts on the Judiciary to help “establish justice”. I don’t think I witnessed much “justice” in the St. Paul Courtroom today.