Open Letter to My Judge for White House Protest Arrest

January 31, 2010

Judge Richard H. Ringell
DC Superior Court
500 Indiana Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Judge Ringell,

I was one of the 13 co-defendants who were arrested in a peaceful, nonviolent protest at the White House who arrived in your courtroom on Wednesday, January 27 in the late afternoon. (Case # 2010 CDC 001810). We were told by one of the guards in the jail as we were being brought upstairs that “the judge is going to be mad that these ‘failure to obey’ cases are coming before the other traffic cases.”

Little did I know that you would take out your anger over nonviolent defendants. I have been a defendant numerous times – all for nonviolent protest arrests – and never have I witnessed such rudeness, contempt, and a sense of dismissal from the bench than what I experienced last week. I’m not sure that was your intent but that is how it was received by several of my co-defendants and me.

We were unable to consult with Ann Wilcox, our preferred counsel since she was on jury duty that week so when we shuffled into your courtroom (the leg irons, waist chains attached to handcuffs were totally inappropriate for nonviolent offenders), we were told a man we had never seen or met before was “defense counsel”. Without consulting with us, he entered a “not guilty” plea on our behalf, thwarting my initial plan to plead “nolo contendre”. Of course that was all moot when we discovered new additional charges of “unlawful assembly” and “disorderly conduct” were piled on. Besides the absurdity of those charges, (we clearly informed the Park Police and the Secret Service officers present at least 1 hour before our “die-in” protest of our intent and we were anything but disorderly), I felt I was rushed into a decision after I asked to consult counsel. Your threat to put me at the “end of the line” and wait until all the traffic cases were heard (more than 20-30 other cases given the number of men in our holding pen downstairs) meant spending another night in the jail since it was already after 4 PM. Not having any food other than 4 white bread “sandwiches” in the 28 hours we were incarcerated, there was no guarantee I’d be fed again before coming back to your court.

I understand and sympathize if your bruskness was due to short-staffing and an overwhelming workload but you are the one in power in that setting, not those you victimize with a travesty of one’s “day in court”. (It is ironic that if our protests against war spending were successful, you might have an adequate budget for your courts and jails.) Given that our intent on the day of our arrest was to assert our First Amendment rights to “peaceably assemble for a redress of grievance”, the entire process since our initial booking until facing you was an insult to principled dissent. As a Judge, you have it within your authority to dismiss these cases with a “time served” sentence but you instead allowed the Prosecutor to further insult 3 co-defendants by not even allowing them to post the forfeiture bond because of prior arrests for similar nonviolent protest in the District. Since I had two prior arrests at the White House and the Capitol Rotunda, I should have also been included in that group.

It pains me that if elderly, white, educated defendants like those in our group are treated so disrespectfully, I can only imagine the psychic damage inflicted on the poor and marginalized defendants caught up in that “Justice” [sic] system you are presiding over. Please forgive me if this seems to you to be a personal attack on you – it is rather my desire to expose what I feel is part of a bureaucracy determined to allow systemic injustice to proceed unabated.

Stephen D. Clemens
2912 E. 24th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406-1322