NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

NLG Mass Defense Committee at Work

Reported by Mark D. Stern

I want to tell you how amazingly well the Guild Mass Defense Committee (MDC) functions. I volunteered to represent two medics who had observed but not participated in or planned the I-93 Somerville Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest blockade. I had never done a criminal jury trial in my forty-three years of practice, but I assumed the District Attorney would have the charges dropped against the two medics eventually, or that we would get an offer of a plea deal with nothing but pretrial probation and community service. Instead Middlesex DA Marian Ryan insisted that her staff go after forty-five (not a typo) days jail time, and she ultimately assigned seven to nine ADA’s (not a typo: two up front and between five to seven backup workers, including a regional supervisor) to the case involving two misdemeanor charges – trespass on state land and disorderly conduct by a joint venture theory.

Jeff Feuer joined me as co-counsel after he pled out all the remaining defendants, all of the blockaders and the other medic (with no jail time at all imposed by the judge), and stayed up all night before the last day of the trial writing jury instructions (which he brilliantly argued but lost on) as well as editing everything I planned to say. Stephen Hrones and Joe Goldberg-Guiliano represented other protestors/ defendants whose cases were favorably resolved by plea deals. Neil Berman was representing a co-defendant whose case was to be tried together with my client’s case. Carl Williams and Makis Antzou-latos met with Neil, my client, and myself to plan our defense, and in the process we found evidence that exonerated Neil’s client (whom the DA then nolle prossed). Makis came back another time to run my client through a cross examination and play the cop for my cross examination. Oren Nimni came forward during the trial to represent a potential witness and offered to provide testimony on BLM, neither of which we ultimately presented.

At the trial the defense we presented was that a citizen may disregard repeated instructions from the police to remove herself from observing a crime scene, and therefore cannot be convicted of trespass for refusing an order of a state trooper to get off of state land which was not for public use. Although the Judge refused to give an instruction to this effect, I presented an extended argument to the effect that, given that there was a constitutional right to observe the police (which the Judge’s instructions failed to acknowledge), our client could not be guilty of willfully remaining on the land without right. We also argued that agreeing to be a medic for an unlawful demonstration is not aiding and abetting disorderly conduct by the demonstrators.

The jury came back with two NOT GUILTY verdicts, at which point the ADA’s advised the judge they would now proceed against our client on charges of conspiracy, which had been scheduled for a separate trial. Sarah Wunsch, Carl Williams, Josh Raisler-Cohn, and Makis repeatedly responded to dozens of questions I had about the law and the criminal defense process, as well as whether I could or should do a number of stupid things I thought about doing. In addition to the aforementioned, the other BLM protestors who were involved in the Quincy I-93 demonstration and who were charged with multiple counts of trespass, disorderly conduct, conspiracy, resisting arrest and blocking an emergency vehicle, were ably represented by NLG attorneys Susan Church, Benjie Hiller, Mark McMahon, and Neil Berman. All of those cases were resolved as well without any of the demonstrators receiving any jail time.

The MDC works like a well-oiled machine. It was a pleasure and of the greatest assistance to get to work with the aforementioned named members of the Committee to achieve this small victory against an overzealous district attorney and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mark Stern is an NLG member and a co-founder of the Massachsuetts Chapter.