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Monday, October 15, 2012

Occupy Portland Wins Right to Jury Trials—Will Dismissals Follow?

Posted by Nathan Gilles on Mon, Oct 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Eviction at Chapman Square

After more than eight months of fighting—and in what amounts to a huge, and hugely complicated, legal victory—many Occupy Portland defendants have finally won the right to jury trials.

This morning in the Multnomah County Courthouse, Judge Cheryl Albrecht ruled that a recent appellate court decision does indeed apply to some, but not all, Occupy cases. The decision is this: Occupiers who were originally arrested on criminal trespass charges that were later reduced to violations can now get both state-paid legal counsel and trials in front of a jury, not just a judge. And the implications could be far-reaching.

For starters, Albrecht’s decision means many cases that have already gone to trial, like the trials last month for November 13, 2011 eviction of Chapman Square, could now be re-litigated, this time with juries and legal counsel. This could prove to be either a hassle or a boon for defendants who thought their fight with the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office was over.

The other big implication is this: the DA’s office has some serious thinking to do on whether to pursue the jury trials, or just flat out dismiss them. One big factor will be whether the cost of the trials can be justified—court-appointed lawyers are expensive, after all, and a large number of occupiers are now entitled to them. The DA is expected to decide early next week.

Of course, not all occupiers will get jury trials. Albrecht’s decision does not apply to defendants originally arrested on charges—like interfering with a police officer—that also were reduced to violations. These cases will proceed without jury trials. (At one point, these cases were going to get trials under a previous ruling. However the DA responded to that ruling by dropping most of these charges for violations that didn’t qualify for juries or legal counsel. And now, occupiers with these charges don’t fall under the new appellate court ruling). That means cases like the one against Liz Nichols—the infamously pepper-sprayed occupier—won’t change. So what happens next?

Albrecht, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the cases, and Occupy’s legal brain trust will meet next Monday, October 22, to decide.

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