Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County judge on Wednesday found a group of people arrested in April during the first of what became months of weekly protests at the Legislative Building guilty of trespassing and violating building rules.
District Judge Joy Hamilton said that, although she finds some of the rules governing public access to the Legislative Building to be "vague, overbroad and confusing," state NAACP President Rev. William Barber and 11 others acted in concert to disrupt lawmakers.
Earlier Wednesday, Hamilton said there was insufficient evidence that the 12 protesters posed a threat, so she tossed out the charge of failure to disperse against all of them.
"We may be convicted for our convictions, but our convictions stand," Barber said after the trial. "So, what are we going to do? We're going to go back and continue to mobilize."
All 12 were fined $100, but Hamilton said she wouldn't bar them from returning to the Legislative Building. The convictions are being appealed.
Authorities maintain the protesters broke the rules by blocking a door to the Senate, holding up signs and chanting and singing.
"I believe all these things certainly add up to a disturbance under the building rules," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Mary Elizabeth Wilson said.
The protesters denied they disrupted the General Assembly, arguing that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech.
"His order to leave the premises," defense attorney Scott Holmes said, referring to North Carolina General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver, "was unconstitutional because these folks were engaged in political speech."
None of the protesters testified in their own defense during the three-day trial – the first day of testimony was held in October.
The group was the first of more than 900 people arrested during the so-called "Moral Monday" protests against the legislative agenda of the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the summer.
The protesters said lawmakers were hurting the poor, the unemployed, students and other groups through their actions.
A handful of protesters have been convicted in the case and are appealing. A few others were acquitted. Charges against dozens of protesters were dropped after they agreed to perform community service under a deal offered by Wake County prosecutors to clear cases from the clogged court dockets.