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Occupy: Case Dismissed?

Will Right to Jury Trials Spell End to Protesters' Charges?

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AFTER MONTHS of extremely complicated legal battles, the seemingly impossible has happened: Dozens of Occupy Portland defendants originally charged with misdemeanors during the city's crackdown on protests have finally won the right to jury trials and court-appointed lawyers. But whether they actually get them—or any trial at all—is still a big if.

The price tag associated with all that due process—something the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office strives to avoid on low-level cases because of budget cuts—might lead prosecutors to drop all the charges instead.

On Monday, October 15, Judge Cheryl Albrecht determined that a recent appellate ruling—on whether certain misdemeanor charges automatically deserve jury trials—also applies to Occupy cases. Albrecht decided that any occupier originally charged with criminal trespassing—charges that were later reduced by the DA to avoid costly and time-consuming prosecution—should be treated like any other defendant.

By the numbers, this means more than half of the roughly 85 remaining Occupy cases now qualify for those rights. That's a decisive victory for Occupy's legal brain trust. But for the DA's office, it means making a tough decision.

The DA now has to choose between prosecuting Occupy, appealing Albrecht's ruling, or dismissing the cases.

Jeff Howes, District Attorney Mike Schrunk's top assistant, told the Mercury on Tuesday, October 16, that he couldn't comment on which way his office was leaning. "But I will tell you this," says Howes. "We are taking a hard look at what Judge Albrecht ruled on... and we are going to decide on what's the best way to go forward."

The DA is expected to reveal its decision next week. But lawyers for Occupy strongly suspect the DA will decide to fold.

Yet, so far, the DA has fought hard to keep occupiers from getting juries and court-appointed counsel. If history is any measure, an end-run around the decision is far more likely. The DA's office escaped an earlier decision by Albrecht—granting jury trials to occupiers facing misdemeanors charges like disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer—by re-filing them as violations including traffic citations.

Albrecht's latest ruling means a handful of criminal trespass defendants that have already gone to trial—including occupiers arrested during the November 13 eviction of Chapman Square—could end up back in court, this time in front of a jury.

Albrecht, the prosecutor handling the Occupy cases, and Occupy's attorneys will meet on Monday, October 22, to decide what happens next. But for now, some occupiers are pleased.

"I'm so fucking happy," one defendant said. "This is a huge win."

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