As a lawyer who was trained in representing political activists by the late and greats Arthur Kinoy and Ben Margolis, I read with dismay that the tree sitters from Yellow Finch were denied bond and left to languish in jail pending their trials for trespass.
In the twenty-five years I have represented tree sitters, political protestors and activists in Oregon, not one of them spent more than a day in jail waiting for their trial or adjudication.
In considering whether to release someone accused of a crime on bail or bond, the court considers flight risk. Will they stick around for their trial? In the case of a political crime, where the accused has broken the law, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of greater society, those accused have a big stake in the message behind their actions.
In the tree sitters case, they had ample opportunity again and again to slip away in the middle of the night but yet stuck it out until their arrest and extraction. And after arrest, they similarly have a high motivation to stick around and use their trial as a public forum to repeat their message that they are not the wrongdoers. It is the pipeline company that should be on trial.
In the past, I have brought politicians, respected individuals and scientists to bail hearings to testify on behalf of my clients. The court listened. In this case, besides arguing for the release of the clients, the bail hearing serves as a prelude to the defense of necessity which is that the tree sitters “wrong doing” was a necessary small wrong to prevent a greater societal harm. The necessity defense has been recognized by other states as valid. Political protestors follow a great American tradition which includes people such as Rosa Parks.
Those brave citizens should see their day in court but should not be forced to languish in jail before they take their case and message to their peers and the justice system.
Graf is an attorney licensed in Virginia, Tennessee and Oregon with over 25 years representing political protestors. He is the recipient of Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Public Justice Award for his work in representing political protestors. He lives in Floyd.