A U.S. District Court judge told a federal prosecutor in court on Friday that the government appeared to be invoking an overly harsh charge against 13 LGBT activists who were arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence last November to protest the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
In a status hearing at the U.S. courthouse in D.C., Judge Magistrate John M. Facciola said the government’s decision to charge the protesters with a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail seemed out of keeping with other non-violent civil disobedience cases that involve the arrest of protesters.
Facciola noted that attorneys representing the 13 activists — including former Army Lt. Dan Choi and former Army Staff Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom – have called for a trial of each of the defendants unless the government agrees to a less serious charge. A trial for 13 people would cost the government a considerable amount of money and would take up court time that could better be used for other cases, the judge said
“We think the judge was telegraphing very clearly that he sees the case very similar to the way we see this case — as a civil rights exercise, as a First Amendment exercise as people who non-violently expressed their opposition to a policy which has now been repealed,” said defense attorney Mark Goldstone after the hearing.
Facciola directed George to continue to negotiate with the defense on a possible alternate charge or course of action. He scheduled a follow-up status hearing for May 17. If no agreement is reached by then he directed the parties to return to court on Sept. 19 for either the start of a trial or a plea to an agreed upon charge.
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