Judge Mary Ann Driscoll "Based on what the Commonwealth has said, and based on the very heartfelt expressions of the defendants who believe – and I don't question their beliefs in any respect – who believe in their cause and who [indecipherable] because they believe they were entitled to invoke the [or their?] necessity defense, I'll accept what they said and find the defendants, I'll find them all not responsible." (transcribed from 28:33-29:03 in the audio file)
...... a follow up question to make sure the record of the ruling is clear....
Q: Attorney Andrew Fischer representing the defendants: "Could I ask that the Court's finding of not responsible be stated on the record that it's in light of the necessity defense?"
A: Judge Mary Ann Driscoll: "Yes, that can appear on the record..." Judge Driscoll continues by saying that the attorneys can get an official copy for "whatever you wish to make of it." (transcribed from 29:57-30:31 in the audio file)
We are grateful to Judge Driscoll for her willingness to consider the relevant facts in this case, including the evidence that attempts to block construction were necessary to prevent a greater harm.
The most extraordinary part of this audio recording is the brief testimonies of 12 of the defendants, beginning at 3:45 in the audio file.Read more
Big and exciting news! Earlier today (March 27) 13 defendants went into Boston’s West Roxbury District courthouse to answer charges related to their arrests as part of a sustained campaign to block construction on the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline that included 198 arrests from October 2015 through September 2016. Although the prosecutor moved to reduce the charges from misdemeanor criminal offenses to civil infractions — the equivalent of a parking ticket, Judge Mary Ann Driscoll allowed each defendant testify briefly on the necessity of their actions.
The defendants collectively presented a powerful and comprehensive argument for why it was necessary to engage in civil disobedience to stop the imminent local and global harms of this fracked gas pipeline. Following their testimony, the judge ruled that the defendants’ actions were necessary in order prevent a greater harm.
While defendants were still denied a jury trial and the possibility of a full necessity defense, this is the first time that defendants were acquitted by a U.S. judge based on climate necessity. Since then the defendants have had a celebratory lunch together, and met to talk about next steps and future struggles.
We’ll have audio from the courtroom as soon as it’s available (in a few days), but in the meantime Climate Disobedience Center would love your help sharing this news:
Join us tomorrow at 7pm at the JP Forum in Boston, or watch the live stream online! Invite your friends and family to join us and learn more.
Share this Facebook live video of all the defendants and their legal team on the steps of the courthouse just after the verdict.
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If you're looking for more background info, you can explore the defendants and the campaign below on our West Roxbury page. Read the press release from before the verdict on the next page and find Media coverage of the verdict here.
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Prosecution Backs Down--Reduces Charges to Avoid Trial of 13 West Roxbury Pipeline Protesters
Activists say they were denied a chance to present a ‘necessity defense’ against a dangerous gas pipeline
For more information Contact:
Marla Marcum, Climate Disobedience Center, 781-819-0993, email@example.com
Alice Cherry, Attorney, Climate Defense Project (847) 859-9572, firstname.lastname@example.org
Boston – A long awaited local trial of 13 environmental activists, arrested in 2016 for their civil disobedience in protesting a major new fracked gas pipeline in West Roxbury, was suddenly and surprisingly canceled late last week by the prosecuting attorney. The original charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace were reduced to “civil infractions,” basically the equivalent of a parking ticket.
By reducing the charges, the prosecutor has avoided what could have been a groundbreaking legal case. The action effectively denies the 13 defendants a jury trial, although the judge had signaled an inclination to allow a “necessity defense” — an argument that actions blocking construction of the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline were justified in order to avoid the greater harms of climate change and threats to public safety posed by this pipeline.
Lawyers for the 13 activists suggested there may even have been a “cause and effect” – that charges were reduced in order to avoid the trial for which the defendants, their legal team, eight expert witnesses, and many supporters had prepared.
Activists said they were disappointed that they would not get the chance to present their case to a jury of their peers but still felt their resistance had a positive impact. “We forced Spectra to admit to the judge that they did not have and do not have a safety plan for the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline and likely any projects going forward,” said Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Earth and Environment Dept. at Boston University and one of the defendants.
Added Marla Marcum, Co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center and a spokesperson for the group, “We knew the attempt to take these cases to trial was a long shot, but as climate activists in 2018, we know that long shots and moral imagination are some of the most promising tools for culture-shifting transformation.”
“What we stood for is true, and that truth is in the process of coming to light, regardless of the fact that the system is unable to fully hear it right now,” Said Karenna Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Director of the Center for Earth Ethics of at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
All 13 defendants will be at the West Roxbury District courthouse on Tuesday morning, March 27 at 8am, as required. They will be available to speak to press and may have a chance to make brief statements before the court.
Many of the defendants and their expert witnesses, including noted climate change activist Bill McKibben, who was expecting to testify at the trial in support of these activists, will participate at a special forum in Jamaica Plain Forum on Wednesday night, March 28 at 7pm: More information can be found at: https://jamaicaplainforum.org/event/testimony-from-12-defendants-of-the-w-roxbury-lateral-pipeline/.
The defendants are among the roughly 200 protesters who had been arrested as part of a massive campaign against this pipeline beginning in early in 2015. Initially concerned with local safety-- the risk of locating a high pressure facility in a densely populated neighborhood and across the street from an active blasting quarry—protesters gained support from Boston Mayor Walsh and the entire Boston City Council, Congressman Lynch, Senators Markey and Warren, State Representative Coppinger and State Senator Rush, as well as residents and officials from the Town of Dedham through which the pipeline also runsran.
The City of Boston and Town and Dedham also filed lawsuits against Spectra Energy, the pipeline contractor, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), raising questions of conflict of interest and lack of due process. Neither lawsuit was successful, and the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline and related facilities went into operation last year despite continuing concerns about safety raised by the City’s first responders.
The West Roxbury defendants and their supporters remain committed to opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure in Boston and beyond. Mary Boyle, a 77 year old retired educator from West Roxbury who held a public vigil almost every morning for over a year of pipeline construction, added, “The people who came to our neighborhood to help us fight this pipeline give me hope that we can build enough people power to stop similar projects. Their partnership in this struggle has helped me in dealing with the frustrations I feel in the face of injustice in society. I didn’t spend time fighting pipelines before one came to my neighborhood, but now I am working with others to oppose a pipeline project in the Back Bay.”
Yesterday, the prosecutor informed our legal team that the charges against the 13 remaining West Roxbury Resisters will be reduced to civil infractions — basically the equivalent of a parking ticket.
These defendants have been denied a jury trial, although the judge had signaled an inclination to allow a necessity defense — an argument that actions blocking construction on the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline were justified in order to avoid the greater harms of climate change and threats to public safety posed by this pipeline. In fact, the charges were probably reduced in order to avoid the trial for which the defendants, their legal team, nine expert witnesses, and many supporters had prepared.
The attempt to take these cases to trial was a long shot. We knew that the District Attorney was unlikely to let us have our day in court. Remember, nearly 200 other people were also arrested during the Resist the Pipeline campaign in West Roxbury, and none of them stood trial. But we took a gamble based on the idea that by offering a necessity defense, we could turn the tables on a system that rubber stamps pipelines and drilling applications while it criminalizes protest and dissent. Not so, this round.
While we are disappointed, we are not disheartened. As climate activists in 2018, we know that long shots and moral imagination are some of the most promising tools for culture-shifting transformation.
If you’re in the Boston area or were planning to join us for the trial, we invite you to meet us at the West Roxbury District courthouse on Tuesday morning. The defendants will be there, as required, and they may have a chance to make brief statements before the court. For those who RSVP, we will send information about travel to the courthouse and other logistics.
We also invite you to join us Wednesday Night for the Jamaica Plain Forum. You can meet up with our team in Boston, or tune in online from wherever you are. We'll celebrate this campaign of climate disobedience, hear some of what the defendants had hoped to present in court, and share our thoughts on action and legal strategies in this moment.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be unwilling to hear the evidence about climate change and community risk, but we will not be silent. I hope you’ll join us.
We may not get the #ClimateTrial we wanted — or the one our communities and planet need — in Boston next week. But the fight will continue in this community and in many more.
For the last two years, I have worked to lead a sustained resistance campaign to a fracked gas pipeline in West Roxbury, Massachusetts through more than a dozen civil disobedience actions and an extended legal process. Now those activists are finally going to trial on March 27th.
The judge has been supportive of the activists intent to use the necessity defense, so we are confident we will be able to make a full argument about why civil disobedience is necessary to avert the catastrophic harms of continued fossil fuel expansion. This case is a near-perfect opportunity for the strategy the Climate Disobedience Center has been pursuing for years. Every elected official representing West Roxbury opposed this pipeline, and the city of Boston even sued to try to stop it, so our argument that civil disobedience is necessary when our government is so rigged in favor of exploitative corporations is more compelling than any other #ClimateTrial necessity case yet.
Also, with fifteen activists from five different days of protests combined in one trial, we have the unique opportunity to argue the effectiveness of a campaign of sustained resistance. Civil disobedience doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but prosecutors sometimes try to act that way in order to make it seem like we couldn’t reasonably expect our actions to make a difference. In this trial, for the first time, we get to make the case for why a growing, escalating campaign can be so powerful at standing up to the most powerful industry in the world.
To make the most of this opportunity, we need the resources to bring in expert witnesses, pay court expenses, and dedicate our own staff time to this effort. We need to raise $5000 to make this happen. Please donate today, and join us in Boston on March 27th-30th for this groundbreaking case.
Climate Disobedience Center Fellow, and Clergy Climate Action Founder, Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman shares her story of faithful action on the West Roxbury fracked gas pipeline.