With a series of arrests just one year apart, a group of activists found themselves in two separate courthouses on the same day, and one trial placed all of them on the same side of the law as their prosecutor.
Justice Richard Platkin presided over the case that pitted Albany District Attorney David Soares against City Court Judge Will Carter on Friday (June 28) at Albany’s State Supreme Court. The dispute stemmed from the June 2012 arrest of Occupy Albany activists who have become known as the Lark Street Four.
During proceedings Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi failed to call forth any witnesses, a decision that led Carter to charge the prosecutor’s office with contempt.
Attorney Christopher Horn represented Soares. Carter’s attorney was James Knox. Horn argued that Carter overstepped constitutional boundaries by directing the DA on how to prosecute. Knox countered that once the prosecutor’s office decides to open a case, it must continue to pursue it.
A statute written by the state Legislature in the 1800s became a key discussion point for both parties. The law banned “nolle prosequi”—Latin for “failure to prosecute.” At the time the code was written, corruption often decided which people prosecutors would charge with crimes.
The attorney for the Lark Street Four, Mark Mishler, filed a separate claim against Carter. He also presented arguments during the hearing that placed him on the same side of the courtroom as Soares, whose office initially charged his clients Daniel Morrissey, Eric Cantine, Timothy Holmes, and Colin Donnaruma.
Judge Platkin stated that his decisions for both cases would come within a few weeks.
Members of Occupy Albany and other supporters joined Morrissey and Cantine in the courtroom gallery. Many in this group were among the 21 activists arrested on June 18 for protesting outside of State Senator Jeff Klein’s office at the Capitol, and had appearances at the Albany Criminal Court on Morton Avenue later that morning.
The 21 belonged to a larger group that represented a broad coalition of agendas. State troopers arrested them when they blocked the door to Klein’s office. Each faces charges of disorderly conduct.
The group targeted Klein because he is the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. Many of the activists view the IDC under Klein’s leadership as responsible for holding up legislation including the Women’s Equality Agenda.
“We were protesting the fact that the IDC, the coalition with Senate Republicans, have allowed progressive legislation to be blocked that would benefit millions of New Yorkers,” said Stephan Pampinella of Fair Elections for New York.
The 21 activists came from all over New York state and ranged in age from 19 to 70 years old. Among those arrested was Citizen Action’s Karen Scharff, Zenaida Mendez of New York State Now, and Jennifer Lopes, an activist for transgender rights.
“We are all deeply disappointed, voters should feel that their legislators coming home without fair elections is a deep disgrace and demand that they return to Albany and get it done for the people of New York state,” said Jessica Wisneski of Citizen Action.
During their separate appearances, each of the 21 activists was released and ordered to return to court for conferences on July 8. Outside the courthouse the coalition held a press conference, where they stated that they will continue their campaign of protests and civil disobedience until the Legislature acts with New Yorkers in mind.
Correction: This article originally read : “Soares’ office initially charged the four men with disorderly conduct, and one for resisting arrest.” Cecilia Logue, Public Information Officer for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, explained that, “Our office did not file charges against these individuals. The Albany Police Department arrested and charged these defendants.”