Time to end the Moral Monday trials

March 6, 2014 

Credit Raleigh criminal defense attorney John McWilliam with getting to a most important point amid all the hoopla surrounding the trials of Moral Monday protesters. More than 920 people were arrested in peaceful demonstrations inside the Legislative Building during the last General Assembly session, and their trials have led to uneven outcomes.

Perhaps McWilliam got on to something in winning acquittals Wednesday for several protesters. He had unsuccessfully subpoenaed House Speaker Thom Tillis and Phil Berger, Senate president pro tem, to ask the Republican leaders why the Moral Monday protests and arrests were handled as they were when citizens actually are the ones who own the Legislative Building. Most protesters were arrested on trespass charges.

That, McWilliam told Judge Joyce Hamilton, was wrong because of the nature of trespass laws. “In this case, Judge,” McWilliam said, “you have to be told this is the property of another. This is not the property of another. This is the very property of the people who were on the property that day.”

Hamilton acquitted McWilliam’s clients but didn’t get into specifics. Most protesters – and there were thousands over the summer – were there to show their frustration with the Republicans’ failure to support public education and with their adventure in radical-right lawmaking.

Whatever Moral Monday cases are left should be dismissed. They’re a waste of time.

GOP leaders would be wise to simply back off before they convene a short session in the spring. But the leader who’s really missing an opportunity is Gov. Pat McCrory, who has been treated by some legislative leaders as if he doesn’t exist, though he’s a Republican.

The governor could make a conciliatory gesture here that would give him the high ground and show him to be a person of reason. He could say to forget the prosecutions of Moral Monday protesters, allow people to have their say and focus on the business of serving all the people.

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