Discover more from The Simple Heart
The long slog of criminal justice
Also, why my musings are delayed
NOTE: I’m writing every day in memory of Lisa, who died on October 13. Not all of these posts will be sent out by email, and some I may write from jail/prison, as I go to trial on November 29. So if you want to follow this journey, visit the blog every day. I’ll try to post by 10 am each day, but occasionally, I’m sure a post will be late.
If you’re waiting to read about how I got out of my first felony, 15 years ago in chilly Chicago, I’ll apologize and ask you wait 1-2 more days. I’m currently a little overwhelmed!
The reason is that, in addition to my trial in Transylvania, North Carolina in less than 2 weeks, I’m currently in preliminary hearings for a separate case in Sonoma County, California. This case, which is arguably the most strategically important in DxE’s history, has been a long, slow slog. Charges were brought for the first time in September 2018, after 58 activists were arrested and charged with multiple felonies — in many cases for simply walking onto farm property to take photographs. And it’s been nearly 3 years, and we are finally at the point that the judge is ready to determine whether there is “probable cause” to move forward with the multiple felony charges against me and 3 other co-defendants: Cassie King, Almira Tanner, and Priya Sawhney.
I say “multiple” because I’ve lost count of the actual number of felonies they’ve charged us with, in some cases merely because I was standing on public property advocating for open rescue.
I’ll be writing much more, I am sure, about the Sonoma case. It’s the one that we were building for many years up to the point of the mass open rescues in May and Sept of 2018. But for now, I want to make a different point:
The wheels of justice are slow.
We have seen seemingly endless delays, cancellations, and other obstacles to having our day (and the animals’ day in court). There are some reasons for this that are inevitable. COVID-19’s closure of court houses. The scheduling demands of 5 different legal teams (4 defendants, plus the state).
But part of the reason for the delay is that the State, in this case and many others, does not seem particularly eager to bring this case to trial. After all, they have partially achieved their objective — deterring future actions, taking certain activists “out of commission” — merely by forcing us to deal with a pending criminal case. Perhaps more importantly, there is a growing recognition in the industry that we want these trials. So why would they give us what we want?
This is part of the reason that I, personally, am trying to move forward with my cases, even if it goes against traditional criminal defense practices.
The testimony that occurred yesterday in court solidified this with me. The main prosecution witness for the day, Mike Weber, the owner of Sunrise Farms, a massive egg factory farm in Sonoma County (and one of only 3 significant egg farms left in the entire county), was grilled by our experienced trial team, including defense lawyer Izaak Schwaiger, a former Marine whose wit is as sharp as they come. There is something incredibly important about finally forcing our legal and political system to ask questions it has consistently refused to ask.
I get the sense that at least some in the industry are hoping for that same opportunity. That may make some think that this is a game of chicken. One side has to win (or perhaps both sides will crash into each other and burn). I have a more optimistic view.
Even with the farm companies of this nation, this is not a zero sum game. The chance to talk things out in court is a chance for everyone — yes, including the activists — to learn about what needs to change.
One brief anecdote to illustrate. I talked to Tawny Tesconi, the head of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, briefly before court. She obviously was unhappy to see me. And I was somewhat surprised she even answered my questions. But what she told me was illuminating: she said that she was upset about the fact that, in some cases, people’s families are on the farm, and that their children might have been scared by the protest. This seems to me a legitimate potential concern. And it made me think about what we could do, at future protests, to ensure the concern is addressed. E.g., perhaps we could bring some food for the families and children. Perhaps we could make signs expressly saying that we love and support everyone in our community (the animals, but yes the farmers too).
But the key point is that there are ways for us all to do our work in a way that minimizes the risk of harm for others. The only way for us to do that is to listen. And I’m hopeful, the gravity of a court proceeding, in which people are putting their own freedom on the line, inspires us all to do that.