Thirteen months ago, the Republican National Convention came to town, carved an indelible scar on the Twin Cities and left.
It’s likely also left the average Minnesotan’s mind after this long, and certainly littered streets and broken windows have long been returned to order. Many of the criminal cases stemming from the protests have, too, been resolved.
But Thursday morning, eight activists, and a horde of dozens of supporters, headed to the Ramsey County District Courthouse. The RNC 8, arrested preemptively before the RNC and accused of plotting to violently disrupt the convention, felt as if their day in court inched that much closer.
On the way to St. Paul, crammed into RNC 8 member Rob Czernik’s Toyota Camry (“This was a nice car in 1987,” he explained), three co-defendants marveled at the dozens-strong turnout of supporters caravanning to the courthouse with them. They also wished for coffee and chatted about reality TV shows, hand-me-down clothes and a high-school girlfriend.
Thursday’s much-anticipated hearing drew enough supporters to warrant a move to a larger courtroom to accommodate them. The hearing, pushed back from its original August date because of scheduling conflicts for their judge, was the first for all eight co-defendants since March.
Judge Teresa Warner made no hard-and-fast decisions on the motions presented to her, notably including a thorough formal push by the eight-attorney defense to consolidate their clients into a single trial.
Prosecutors firmly opposed that plan, saying it would be logistically messy and invite an appeal. Repeatedly, prosecutors Heidi Westby and Derek Fitch singled out RNC 8 member Max Specktor, who was arrested the morning of Sept. 1, 2008 on his way to the RNC to protest.
Six of the RNC 8 had already been arrested by that point. Westby argued it wouldn’t make sense for them to be tried alongside Specktor, as the evidence against Specktor obtained upon his arrest (namely, the contents of his van, which Westby characterized as “riot gear”) would apply even to those who were already jailed.
Last week, Specktor’s counsel filed a motion to throw out that evidence. Warner has yet to rule on that.
About one-third of the three-hour hearing centered on the prospect of a joint trial, including a proposition made by prosecutors to try the activists in three separate groups, rather than individually. The defendants fervently expressed that they didn’t see that as an option, and stuck to the single-trial request they’ve had all along.
Other motions put forth by the defense include one to compel the disclosure of financial information relating to the investigation of the RNC 8, specifically how much compensation informants might have received.
The defense also requested the judge compel the disclosure of the identities of informants, commissioned by the FBI and local law enforcement, to the defense.
Bruce Nestor, who represents RNC 8 member Monica Bicking, said the activists are effectively being held responsible for what happened on the first two days of the RNC, which were rife with police-protester clashes. Because of that, the defendants are entitled to know whether there were informants on the streets, and whether those individuals incited disorder, he argued.
Prosecutors maintained they’ve disclosed all the information they have, and Warner didn’t rule.
Strapped for time after the lengthy joint-trial motion and a late start following the courtroom move, the defense summed up with a request to compel prosecutors to release the contents of seized computers, belonging to the defendants and other individuals.
The state previously delivered contents on a hard drive, but they were illegible to the defense team, which doesn’t have the $3,600 program necessary to read the files. Warner didn’t decide on the matter.
For now, she said she’ll take the motions under advisement. The next step, she said, is settling whether there will be a single trial, eight trials or somewhere in between.
After that, Warner said, she’ll move on to scheduling. The time frame for the trial – or trials – remains unclear. Warner said not to expect the case to go before a jury until next year, but expressed a commitment to moving it along.
“I’m going to make every effort to keep this case on track,” she said to the packed courtroom. “I’ve got some pretty weighty decisions to make.”
After the hearing, one RNC 8 member threw his uncharacteristic tie over his shoulder. One untucked his dress shirt. Another zipped up a hoodie over his courtroom attire.
Then, the same three activists piled back into Czernik’s old Camry. They seemed simultaneously as at ease, frustrated and jovial as ever.
Thirteen months seem to have dulled the sharper sentiments they had early on. For them, the journey to vindication drags on.