The RNC Eight, accused of a criminal conspiracy to wreak chaos during the Republican National Convention, are unlikely to go on trial for at least another six months. But the battle to shape public opinion on the high-profile case has been taking place since the moment of their arrests on the eve of the St. Paul convention in early September.
At a hearing Tuesday afternoon before Ramsey County District Court Judge Teresa Warner, attorneys for the prosecution and defense traded charges over which side had stepped over the line in attempting to manipulate media coverage. Previously Judge Salvador Rosas, who is no longer hearing the case, had warned both sides to be cautious in their public relations machinations.
The prosecution is now seeking an order barring the defense from leaking nonpublic evidence to the media. As evidence of the need for such a prohibition, Assistant County Attorney Heidi Westby cited a Star Tribune article from Dec. 1 based on the review of 1,000 pages of documents provided by a source. The reports detailed the infiltration of the RNC Welcoming Committee by undercover deputies from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
Westby stated that attorneys for the eight defendants were the only ones with access to the documents. She further argued that the evidence includes private individual information, such as juvenile arrest records and financial data.
“They had not been disclosed to anyone else,” she said of the evidence. “This case should not be tried in the press.”
But attorneys for the two defendants in court today — Max Specktor and Monica Bicking — countered that Ramsey County officials are the ones guilty of trying to game the legal process through media manipulation. They noted that Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and County Attorney Susan Gaertner have held press conferences and released evidence unavailable to defense attorneys.
Attorney Larry Leventhal, who represents Specktor, accused the prosecution of seeking to control media coverage by muzzling the defense. “I think she’s being exceedingly disingenuous,” Leventhal said of Westby. “They are attempting to monopolize the conversation.”
Attorney Bruce Nestor, who represents Bicking, said that the prosecution has consistently utilized evidence unavailable to the defense — including ballistics tests and lab reports — to tar their clients in the media. “For months my clients have been attacked in the press,” he said. “There was a purpose to that, and it’s to prejudice my clients to the public.”
Judge Warner did not rule on the matter. Similar preliminary hearings will be held for the remaining defendants — Erik Oseland, Eryn Trimmer, Garrett Fitzgerald, Luce Guillen-Givens, Nathanael Secor and Rob Czernik — over the next week. The cases are currently expected to go to trial in September. Only about 15 percent of the more than 700 people arrested during the RNC have been charged with crimes.
At the close of Tuesday’s hearing, Warner counseled both sides not to engage in behavior that will taint the case. “I won’t tolerate any games being played, any shenanigans,” she said. “We’ll try this case in the courtroom on the evidence that’s presented.”