Friends With Conviction(s)

Friends With Conviction(s)
By Steve Clemens. Dec. 12, 2005

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, peace activists were celebrating two consecutive “Not Guilty” verdicts from Hennepin County juries. Today, Judge Lorie Gildea presided over a bench trial for 12 nonviolent peacemakers at the Southdale Courthouse in Edina. All twelve were declared guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $142. or arrange with the probation department to do Community Service or Sentenced To Serve assignments. What accounts for the different outcomes?

After the City of Edina lost three consecutive jury trials because judges allowed evidence and testimony about International Laws and Treaties, the city, Alliant Techsystems, and the city attorneys got together to devise a different strategy to prosecute nonviolent activists who continued to raise legal and moral objections to several of the indiscriminate weapons made by this “defense” contractor. What they devised was to rewrite the local law to include a new trespass ordinance which would deny protestors the right to put their case before a jury of their peers. By passing a new Edina ordinance and changing the penalty to one where a jail sentence was no longer a sanction, the city effectively removed the cases from appearing before juries. The City of Edina was in such a hurry to protect this corporate malefactor (ATK) that members of the City Council adopted the new ordinance without even having the courtesy to allow for community input by scheduling a second reading of the proposed ordinance.

Today’s trial was the first test of this new ordinance and retired lawyer Ken Gleason joined defendant Bob Burns in requesting that the trespass charges be dismissed because the new ordinance limited the rights of the defendants and the city council did not follow proper procedures. It was a noble intent but a little much to ask a newly appointed judge to make one of her first acts on the bench a decision to override a local (and wealthy) government body. After that decision was handed down, it appeared to many in the courtroom that a conviction was almost assured for the trial that followed.

As has been the practice in previous AlliantAction trials, the defendants stipulated to the facts of the case and only testified about why they took their nonviolent action. Three defendants were absent from the courtroom but John LaForge, Bonnie Urfer, and Sam Foster stood by the testimony of their co-defendants. In a simple yet moving procession, 8 of the defendants spoke clearly and forcefully about their convictions and ATK’s indiscriminate weapons. Dr. David Harris, a member of the local chapter of Vets for Peace led off with a clear statement of the illegality of weapons systems later described by other defendants. Pepperwolf testified about the nature of depleted uranium weapons. Bob Burns described the cluster bombs made by ATK. Sister Jane McDonald brought a child’s prosthesis to the witness stand with her to illustrate her concern about landmines. Sister Betty McKenzie talked about civil disobedience and the rich history of those who have blazed this trail before us, talking about the Boston Tea Party, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Barbara Valle was in tears as she decried the threats to our natural environment by these weapons. John Schmidt added his voice to the choir. Kathleen Ruona reminded us all that these indiscriminate weapons threaten all life on our planet, not just the human species.

Tom Bottolene chose to deliver the closing argument rather than testify. In clear, concise terms, he urged the judge to remember her recent swearing-in ceremony where she pledged to “uphold the Constitution of the United States.” Reading the Preamble to that constitution, Bottolene went on to highlight the supremacy clause found in Article Six which identifies treaties signed by our government as being the supreme law of the land.

The judge, in delivering her guilty decision stated that she was bound by the law and how it has been interpreted by previous rulings. I wanted to ask her how she would rule today if she had Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., or Sojourner Truth standing in front of her. I thought of the moving testimony in a previous ATK trial by Jane Evershed who reminded us that some day [hopefully soon] we will look back on the days of DU weapons with the same horror we now view our world’s history with apartheid, slavery, and the holocaust. How long will we continue to allow ATK to hide behind property laws while profiting from weapons the world community has identified as indiscriminate and illegal? I am blessed to have such friends with conviction(s)!

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