Legislative protesters seek dismissal of charges
Posted June 24, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County judge on Monday set September court dates for the first group of people arrested in the so-called "Moral Monday" protests at the legislature.
Seventeen people were arrested April 29 during the first of what have become weekly demonstrations against Republican-backed legislation that the protesters say harm the working class. More than 450 people so far have been charged with misdemeanor counts of second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse on command and violating building rules, and more protests are planned.
Attorney Irving Joyner said the charges should be dismissed on constitutional grounds, arguing that the protesters have a right to assemble on public property.
"The North Carolina Constitution says that every citizen has the right to go to the General Assembly and address their legislators and to issue any complaints that they have about the work that they're doing," Joyner said. "(The protesters) were being arrested not because of what they did but that they were protesting against actions that we deem to be improper, untimely, spiteful and mean-spirited toward the poor."
District Judge Daniel Nagle said his court was set to handle only pleas or the assignment of attorneys, not to have any hearings with witnesses. So, he split the group in half and assigned them court dates of Sept. 23 and Sept. 30, when the issue of dismissal will be heard.
Initial appearances for subsequent groups of protesters are scheduled in the coming weeks, but they likewise could be pushed back for trials.
Joyner, who is also a law professor at North Carolina Central University, has said he hopes that Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby would review the cases and dismiss the charges.
"The General Assembly cannot continue to operate as if it's a ma and pa candy store," he said.
Willoughby, a Democrat, has said he hasn't decided what to do with the Moral Monday cases. He said Friday that his office hasn't yet received video footage and other evidence from the police. He previously urged protesters to stop, citing the strain the arrests put on an already overburdened court system.
Another mass protest was held Monday night. The demonstrators want Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature to pull back their agenda, which has included bills that cut unemployment benefits, roll back environmental protections and require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
"When you have a legislature that is this extreme, this immoral and this committed to turning us backwards, then we have to be committed even more to go forward together," said state NAACP President Rev. William Barber, one of the 17 protesters in court.
Republicans have dismissed the protests and vowed to press ahead.
"I'm not sure I'm talking to the legislators – they don't seem to be listening – but I'm talking to fellow North Carolinians to say, 'Look around. Think about your life and the lives of your neighbors,'" protester Marty Belin said outside court.
For some protesters, the fight is intensely personal.
Maria Palmer, who is working as an unpaid intern, will lose her unemployment benefits next Monday because of legislation passed by the GOP-controlled legislature.
"I don't know how I'm going to pay my bills until my internship ends in August. I've been looking for work," Palmer said.