AP State, The Bellingham Herald, June 13, 2007
Trespassing charges against 16 people who protested military shipments to Iraq have been dismissed because prosecutors waited too long to provide key reports to the defense.
Cheering erupted in Thurston County District Court as Judge Susan A. Dubuisson issued the ruling Tuesday during a 3 1/2-hour hearing.
"I make that decision with great regret," she said.
The case involves 16 of the 22 Iraq war opponents who were arrested while demonstrating against Army shipments from Fort Lewis through the Port of Olympia on May 30, 2006.
Dubuisson said prosecutors provided new reports from sheriff's deputies who were present during the protests too late for the defense to examine and use in court under the latest trial schedule.
The first three cases had been set for trial next week, and all had to start by June 25 to satisfy speedy trial requirements.
The judge acknowledged she could have postponed the trials to allow more time for the defense to prepare but said dismissal was appropriate because what prosecutors had done amounted to gross negligence.
"This is not a proportionate response to the problem," Deputy Prosecutor James Powers said. "A more balanced solution would have been to continue the case and give them time to prepare."
He said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the dismissal to Superior Court.
Prosecutors requested the reports from deputies and detectives who hadn't filed reports in preparation for the defendants' first trial, which ended in a mistrial in late March after an unnamed source gave prosecutors jury information from a defense e-mail discussion list.
Lawrence A. Hildes, a lawyer for five defendants, accused prosecutors of trying to manufacture evidence and fill gaps to secure a conviction. Powers denied the accusation, saying the reports were intended to provide both sides with more information going into the trial.
Powers said he was late in getting the reports to the defense because he was scrambling to prepare himself after becoming the third prosecutor assigned to the case.
Last year, Dubuisson ruled that the defendants could argue to a jury that breaking the law was necessary to prevent a greater harm through continuation of the war, but her ruling was overturned in Superior Court.
Before the first trial ended in a mistrial, defendants argued that the no-trespassing boundary had been set arbitrarily and made off-limits some property that traditionally had been open to the public.
Information from: The Olympian, http://www.theolympian.com