Occupy Trials Put on Hold: DA Takes Fight to Supreme Court

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Eviction at Champman Square

Last week, we reported that a little more than half of the remaining Occupy Portland court cases had won the right to jury trials and legal counsel. We also conjectured—based on multiple interviews—that District Attorney Mike Schrunk might dismiss these cases rather than waste time and energy appealing the ruling or taking them all the way to trial. Well, we were wrong. Instead of admitting defeat, the DA’s office has decided to continue fighting—taking the cases to the Oregon Supreme Court.

In the Multnomah County Courthouse today, Deputy DA Brian Lowney said his office was going to file a "writ of mandamus" saying, in effect, that Judge Cheryl Albrecht’s decision last week to allow jury trials for those 49 Occupy cases was a bunch of legal nonsense.

This isn’t an appeal as such. Although a writ of mandamus acts in much the same way. As one defense attorney put it, think of it as “an appeal on steroids.” The writ basically fast-tracks the appeal process by going straight to the state high court, which now must decide whether Albrecht’s ruling is in accordance with the law. But unlike under the normal appeals process, this all happens before any defendants go to trial. And that’s the whole point.

This is not only a very shrewd move on the DA’s part, but it’s also not too surprising given how the DA has consistently fought tooth and nail with Occupy’s legal brain trust to keep occupiers from receiving jury trials. That's in part because the stakes in this fight could apply to hundreds of other low-level cases—which have nothing to do with Occupy—handled by prosecutors.

As we reported last spring, jury trials first came up as a possibility back in February, when a different Albrecht decision granted the right, and court-appointed legal counsel, to some occupiers. The DA got around this by dropping the majority of charges that qualified for that ruling, but last Monday, October 15, Albrecht ruled that many of the remaining Occupy cases fell under a more recent appellate court ruling. And the DA is again hoping to avoid jury trials, this time by playing the mandamus card.

How the Oregon Supreme Court will rule is the question on everyone’s minds. Just don’t expect a resolution anytime soon.

The higher court isn’t expected to rule on the mandamus writ for at least two to three more months. This means many occupiers will have been in court proceedings for well over a year by the time they finally go to trial. If they go to trial.

Defense attorney Peter Castleberry says that this added delay will only help Occupy’s lawyers argue another series of motions claiming their clients have been denied the right to speedy trials. But, for now, the majority of Occupy cases have been put on hold.

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