FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | March 26, 2015
Contact: Sandra Steingraber, 607-351-0719
Charges Dismissed “in the Interests of Justice” for 11 More Seneca Lake Gas Storage Protesters in Town of Hector Court
Dismissals now total 53; about 90 more cases pending
Burdett, NY – In a hearing on Wednesday night in the Town of Hector court, Judge Daniel J. Fitzsimmons granted a motion to dismiss all charges “in the interests of justice” brought by 11 Seneca Lake protesters. All had been arrested as part of a sustained civil disobedience campaign at the gates of Crestwood Midstream in the Town of Reading. The cases of these eleven had been transfered to the Town of Hector Court. They represent the first mass dismissals since the original 42 that were dismissed a week earlier, on March 18, in the Town of Reading Court.
The Schuyler County district attorney’s office has agreed to accept dismissal motions from all remaining civil disobedients charged with violation-level trespass and disorderly conduct relating to protests at Seneca Lake and whose cases are still pending at various town courts within the county. Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather, member of the legal defense team advising the protesters, negotiated the mass dismissal agreement.
Protesters with the campaign We Are Seneca Lake oppose the expansion of gas storage in abandoned lakeside salt caverns owned by Crestwood.
The dismissals en masse, “in the interests of justice” are a stunning turn-around for protesters. Those who appeared in court near the beginning of the now five-month-old campaign received maximum fines or maximum jail sentences, and, for one defendant, a judgement lien.
Represented by Schlather, eight defendants appeared before Judge Fitzsimmons on Wednesday night and submitted an oral motion asking for dismissal of their charges. In unision, before the judge, they read from a text identical to that used successfully by protesters last week before Judge Raymond Berry in the Town of Reading Court:
We only have this planet. We must safeguard it for those who follow. Would that it not be necessary, but sometimes citizens of good conscience must engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience to protect that sacred trust. As long as Crestwood Midstream Partners, or any other corporate or public or private entity, continues to threaten our way of life by the proven dangerous storage of highly compressed gas in the crumbling caverns at the Salt Point facility, I reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates in order to protect Seneca Lake, its citizens, and the surrounding environment. I reserve all rights to protest further at the Crestwood facility, although it is not my intent at this time to break the law in doing so.
Judge Fitzsimmons also agreed to drop charges for two other defendants, Charles Geisler and Catherine Rossiter, who were scheduled to appear in court but were unable to attend. Separately, Reverend Nancy Kasper, represented by a public defender, submitted the identical motion. Her charges were likewise dropped. In all cases, assistant district attorney Matt Hayden expressed his willingness to accept the motion, and, in granting it, Judge Fizsimmons dismissed the charges “with prejudice.”
Prior to his ruling, Judge Fitzsimmons reviewed the ten requirements, “A through J,” that must all be met in order for a court to grant a motion to dismiss in the interest of justice under the New York Criminal Procedure Law § 210.40. As evidence of the defendants’ “seriousness” of purpose, Fitzsimmons cited the trainings in non-violent civil disobedience that all We Are Seneca Lake protesters are required to undertake prior to their participation. He noted that the harm to the community caused by the defendants’ actions was “negligible.” He acknowledged the upstanding character of the accused and noted that their actions brought them no financial gain. “Inarguably,” he said, the protesters’ actions were motivated by conscience.
In closing, Fitzsimmons emphasized, as did Assistant District Attorney Hayden before him, that the dismissal, while a ruling in favor of the accused, is not a political statement by the court in support of their actions and that, going forward, laws should be obeyed.
The 11 protesters whose charges were dismissed last night were:
Bruce Agte, 58, Binghamton, Broome County
Britton Doughtery, 28, Ovid, Seneca County
Charles Geisler, 69, Ithaca, Tompkins County
Patricia Heckart, 63, Trumansburg, Tompkins County
Robert Henrie, 88, Wolcott, Wayne County
Nancy Kasper, 56, North Rose, Wayne County
Rosalie Richter-Goldberg, 70, Ithaca, Tompkins County
Margie Rodgers, 60, Elmira, Chemung County
Catherine Rossiter, 62, Sayre, Bradford County, PA
Kathy Russell, 67, Dryden, Tompkins County
Mark Scibilia-Carver, 62, Trumansburg, Tompkins County
Read more about the arrested protesters at http://www.wearesenecalake.com/seneca-lake-defendes/.
Read more about widespread objections to Crestwood’s gas storage plans: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/nyregion/new-york-winemakers-fight-gas-storage-plan-near-seneca-lake.html?_r=0