March 29 Update from Dead City Legal Posse
By Dead City Legal Posse
This is reposted from the Dead City Legal Posse:
It’s been a busy week: we testified against the very bad interim police chief who ordered the mass arrests on J20, saw the first plea deal get taken (deep breath: it actually matters very little in this case, which we’ll explain), and learned current schedule for groupings. We’re going to review all that, plus do some housekeeping. And, once more with feeling: none of the following is legal advice. We are not lawyers.
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You can skip this section if you read last week’s update. It’s a repeat for those who did not:
The most significant development was that the government prosecutor, Kerkhoff, submitted her proposed “case groupings” to Leibovitz: Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, and Group 4. Leibovitz has yet to accept Kerkhoff’s proposed groupings, which vary in size from 12 to 138. Additionally, Leibovitz instructed Kerkhoff that she wanted 6 person trials, because it would be too burdensome on the jury to hear more than 6 cases at a time. Kerkhoff was resistant to this and said she would put a response in writing about why her grouping system is important particularly regarding Groups 1 and 2. There are different options for how to respond to the grouping system that you should inquire about and discuss with your attorney.
The basics seem to be that Kerkhoff is making plea offers, at discovery conferences, to defendants in Group 3 and Group 4, which include a misdemeanor charge reduction and require an allocution (or statement of facts), but do not require cooperation (which means that these pleas include a non-cooperation clause).
What was less clear at this point were Kerkhoff’s intentions with regard to plea offers to defendants in Group 1 (and potentially Group 2). We are not sure, obviously, if this means that those plea offers with not include the misdemeanor charge reduction(s), or if they will seek to require cooperation (meaning they would not include a non-cooperation clause). This is potentially alarming news, but folks should remain calm and strategic in their thinking. Contact your attorneys to discuss your specific situation (and the degree to which this update reflects your circumstances).
The numbering of the groupings corresponds to the order of status hearings and trials. You will receive notice of hearing dates both in the mail and from your attorney. We’re not publishing it here for your safety: email us if you want to get on our update list: info [at] dclegalposse.org.
At Friday’s round of status hearings on 3/24, every defendant who showed up was told that they did not actually have to be there. If you have an upcoming hearing before April 20th, no matter which grouping you are in, please check with your lawyer and confirm whether you must be there. It’s very possible you will not need to come. On Friday, the court stated that attempts had been made to communicate this to defendants’ respective attorneys. The court said they had sent e-mails and some lawyers simply misunderstood or never got the e-mails.
We’re also working on meeting with defendants in a safe, non-court space either the night before hearings, or immediately after the hearings. Timing would depend on when folks are meeting with their lawyers. We wouldn’t be able to discuss legal strategy or speculate on case theories with you, but we can set up the interaction and talk about what support we’re providing, what support is needed, and give you all the space to talk. Though, another important note: no conversations with fellow defendants or support are privileged or protected like your conversations with your lawyer are.
The Great Plea Deal Caper You May Have Already Heard About
Here’s the deal: this is unfortunate but we don’t think it has much bearing on anyone else’s cases. The plea deal that was accepted on Friday by one (1) defendant was both a bad deal and irrelevant to everyone else’s cases. The defendant who took the plea deal was sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act (D.C. Code §§ 24-901 to 906), which allows for a young person who “will derive benefit” to get special treatment under the law. Said defendant in this case is 18 and about to start college in the fall, and was accompanied the whole time by their parents. They pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor rioting or inciting to riot, a suspended 180-day sentence, 1 year of supervised probation, a $500 fine, and 50 hours of community service.
There was no discussion of cooperation, and we have no evidence of the defendant cooperating. We suspect the prosecution had no identification of the defendant beyond the fact of his presence (as evidenced by his arrest). Where it gets interesting is after the plea deal was accepted, when the prosecutor is required to say what the government “would have been able to prove,” they claim they could have proven that said defendant:
- Joined a black bloc with 200 other people.
- Marched with the black bloc for 30 minutes.
- Had multiple opportunities to leave and did not.
- Wore black and goggles.
- “Knew or reasonably should have known that the black bloc was causing destruction.” (yes, direct quote)
- “The actions of the black bloc caused and constituted a riot.”
The defendant was in Grouping 4. That, above, is literally all they had on him. As one of our wonderful NYC defendants said, “This was a terrible plea … the burden of proof is high and the evidence is very weak.” (See above!). “Keep in mind that because they gave us super exaggerated charges, it makes their lives so much harder. It gives them leverage with pleas, as in they can offer you something slightly less insane, but it makes the actual going to trial thing much much harder for them as they have to prove something way more intense. If you go to trial, you’ll be on trial for your charge, not the best plea. Which is to say if they offer you misdemeanor disorderly conduct or something, no jail no fine 12 hours community service and you say no, they still have to prove that you were engaged in felony riot, not disorderly conduct.”
We’re not saying this is legal advice, because we’re not lawyers and neither is this defendant, but, and we quote: “The state has a terrible case. They want you to plead because they won’t be able to convict you. That is how this works.”
Discovery has not exactly proceeded very quickly. We have a summary of this lovely exchange between Judge Leibovitz and the prosecutor, Kerkhoff, to offer: the judge asked if she had extended the same plea deal (or any other plea deals) to any other defendants. Kerkhoff demurred and prevaricated: she started to say that yes other plea deals had been offered but then simply said that pleas will be discussed with those attorneys with whom she has had in-person discovery conferences. The usual line of discourse followed (as shown by this loose court reporting):
Leibovitz: With whom have you had discovery conferences?
Kerkhoff: A lot of people. Not that many. None. I’ll get to it when I can. There’s a schedule. These people will get their chance eventually. I swear.
Leibovitz: Okay great, well obviously y’all are on it and hey attorneys who keep asking about it, I am going to give the government time to finish up and really give them a wide berth on other motions and rulings because I want them to have all the time they need to do the discovery, but I’m going to say this in a way that convinces any random journalist who shows up for the first time in a month that what I’m actually doing is STERNLY INSISTING that Kerkhoff really put her nose to the ol’ grindstone on this.
This conversation has more or less been unchanged for more than a month.
As you can see by the groupings schedule above, it is going to be fun finding housing for everyone coming into town on those days. If you need housing for one of the above dates, please email us! We are confident that we can house all of you, but we need to know in advance: housing [at] dclegalposse.org. If you are planning to reach out to someone who hosted you previously, please cc us on the email, or email us once you’ve confirmed with them.
On Friday, four members of the Dead City Legal Posse testified against the appointment of Peter Newsham as police chief. He’s the one who ordered the arrests on J20, and infamously cost the city $13 million in a lawsuit filed against him after the 2002 Pershing Park arrests.
We’ve got a Facebook and a Twitter: follow us! We post cool things, like news of the new lawsuit filed against DC MPD over Inauguration Day by the Partnership for Civil Justice (their executive director also testified against Peter Newsham). There’s also this piece from Evan Engel, one of the journalists arrested in the kettle, on why he left Vocativ, his former employer. He wrote about the J20 arrests for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
If you are reading this on our website, and you would rather receive it in your inbox, please email info [at] dclegalposse.org. Thanks y’all.
Love and solidarity,
The Dead City Legal Posse