I was in federal court with Lt. Dan Choi today to hear Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George announce that the government will put him on trial on August 29 for demonstrating in front of the White House in November of last year. Choi has refused to accept the government’s plea deal.
People are arrested for protesting in front of the White House all the time, but most are charged with misdemeanors. According to Dan Choi’s attorney Yetta Kurland, however, not since Woodrow Wilson had Alice Paul arrested in 1917 has anyone been brought up on federal charges for doing so.
Choi chained himself to the White House fence on November 10, 2010 to protest DADT. He and 12 others activists were arrested and charged with violating a federal regulation prohibiting “interfering with agency functions,” in this case refusing to obey an order from the National Park Service.
The government offered a deal to the protesters, provided they plead guilty to a “failure to move” charge. Choi is the only one who refused to do so.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George faced a skeptical court in March of this year, when U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola questioned her as to why the government was invoking such harsh and unusual charges in the case. Today George faced an equally skeptical Judge Alan Kay, who had little patience for George’s assertions that she did not know until today that Choi was refusing the government’s deal, and was thus unprepared to proceed. At the the previous hearing, George spent considerable time complaining that Choi was not accepting the government’s deal and removing his name from the settlement documents.
Choi is represented by Kurland and Christopher R. Lynn, who came prepared to argue their case today. Although Judge Kay said repeatedly he thought it would take a half day for the trial, George said she expected it to take two days, as she was prepared to call multiple witnesses. She also told Choi’s attorneys that there was no way he could have failed to hear the order to disperse issued by the park service “unless he’s hard of hearing.”
Ironically, on the same day that Obama’s Justice Department sets the date to put Dan Choi on trial, Sam Stein of the Huffington Post reports that “Obama’s Relationship With Gay Rights Advocates Thaws In Time For 2012.”
Well, some of them anyway.
Update: Yetta Kurland, Dan Choi’s attorney, corrects her earlier statement: “Thanks to the feedback from members of firedoglake community we have learned there have in fact been other incidents of people being arrested and charged federally for chaining themselves to the White House fence since Alice Paul. The point we hope to make at Dan Choi’s trial is that such arrests are unconstitutional and shouldn’t be happening.”