Friday afternoon, North Garner Middle School teacher Marcia Timmel’s lawyer confirmed it to her: charges will be dropped against her despite her initial conviction for trespassing at the state legislature during Moral Monday protests in June of 2013. Her case and a hoard of others were dropped by the district attorney in the wake of recent court rulings.
“I’m thrilled that the Constitution remains intact,” Timmel said. “To me this has become an amazing process to observe and become a part of.”
Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum announced Sept. 19 that he would dismiss all but about 50 cases against protesters arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building in 2013.
The move came four days after the first case to reach Wake County Superior Court was dismissed. Timmel said she was happy that the protesters had been cleared on constitutional grounds rather than some kind of technicality.
“It recognizes how the North Carolina Constitution has always said that the legislature is the people’s house, that we have the right to be there and see redress of grievences,” Timmel said.
Timmel was arrested June 10, 2013, and after “eight or nine” trips to the courthouse she was convicted this spring by a judge. She appealed that ruling which essentially served as a request for a jury trial. That won’t need to happen with the Mangum’s decision in light of the Superior Court rulilng.
She said she took pride in being part of the movement, which she called the first such coalition of forces coming together since the 1960s.
Garner residents Duane Adkinson and Mary Rider were also arrested last summer, but had earlier been found not guilty. Rider’s husband Patrick O’Neill had charges dropped as well.
Mangum said he planned to proceed with cases against the demonstrators arrested July 22, 2013, and July 24, 2013, because the evidence is different in about 50 cases.
On July 22, 2013, neither chamber of the General Assembly was in session when the demonstrators filed into the Legislative Building and gathered in the second-floor rotunda area where they typically did each week during the so-called “Moral Monday” rallies.
On July 24, 2013, six people were arrested at N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office after refusing to leave when they could not get a meeting with him about new election laws.
Mangum said he did not include any of the cases from 2014 because General Assembly police had changed their plans for dealing with protesters. Also new rules governing the N.C. Legislative Building were adopted earlier this year.
Those rules are being challenged in court as unconstitutional.
In 2013, during the first legislative session in more than a century that Republicans in North Carolina had control of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office, the NAACP organized a series of demonstrations to protest the sharp swing to the political right.
More than 900 people were arrested.
“It’s the only way we could answer what they were doing. I felt like I would be complicit if I didn’t stand up and make a statement. They’re taking our money to implement these laws,” Adkinson said. “I think it’s terrible what’s happening to wokring people in North Carolina.”
Clarity from U.S. Supreme Court
Since the trials started late last summer, some of the protesters, like Timmel, have been found guilty. Others have been acquitted and others had their cases dismissed.
The varied verdicts from the early trials offered a portrait of a justice system where legal strategies, personalities and the slightest difference in evidence can affect the outcome of a case. Defense attorneys representing the demonstrators argued in each case that the constitutional rights of the protesters had been violated.
But it was not until June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law governing protest-free zones around abortion clinics, that two Wake County District Court judges issued written rulings explaining their orders for dismissal.
In their unanimous decision, the justices at the country’s highest court said attempts to create spaces on public property where protesting is not allowed does not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
After that ruling, Judge Joyce Hamilton, a retired district court judge who has presided over the bulk of the General Assembly protesters’ trials, threw out five cases from July 15, 2013. Her reasons for doing so were based largely on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Anne Salisbury, a retired District Court judge appointed recently by the state Administrative Office of the Courts to preside over Moral Monday cases, followed with a similar ruling.
On Monday, Judge Donald Stephens released his ruling for the first appeal heard in Wake County Superior Court. He ruled that the constitutional rights of Leonard Beeghley, a retired professor and a member of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham, were violated when he was arrested June 17, 2013.
Mangum, the district attorney, said earlier this week that though he was aware of the dismissals in District Court, he thought it was important to have a case on appeal heard in Superior Court before tossing out hundreds of cases.