Judge hears closing arguments in Wendell State Forest protesters case

ORANGE — The attorney representing the 16 people arrested at Wendell State Forest in the summer told them they have notched a win, regardless of how Judge David Ross rules in their case.

Luke Ryan assured his clients their voices were heard loud and clear, and now they must wait for Ross to render his decision, which Ryan believes could happen on May 4.

Sixteen people, all members of the Wendell State Forest Alliance, were arrested in August and September after physically trying to prevent a state Department of Conservation and Recreation logging project on an 80-acre oak stand in the state forest. The protesters insist this action was necessary civil disobedience. Ross is tasked with determining if the defendants were responsible for what happened.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Scott, who is prosecuting the case, and Ryan made their closing arguments in Orange District Court on Friday morning. Ryan thanked Ross for his thoughtful attention to the matter and said the government has failed to meet their burden of proof that the defendants did not act out of necessity. He said his clients’ action “was truly a last resort.” Scott told Ross that the defense failed to prove their action was necessary and that there were no legal alternatives.

After his clients left the courthouse for a press conference outside, Ryan said the protesters were faced with a clear and imminent danger.

“They had reasonable expectations the actions they would take would reduce that danger, and that they exhausted all reasonable legal alternatives before engaging in the admittedly illegal behavior of trespassing,” he said. “Social change happens by having people who … make sacrifices to bring critical issues to the attention of a larger public and that civil disobedience has a long tradition of serving as a vehicle for people who don’t have the kind of megaphones that we need to be heard in this society, like lots and lots of money.”

Alliance members held protest banners outside the courthouse and rejoiced in Ryan’s comments. Priscilla Lynch reiterated what their attorney said — they have achieved a victory, no matter how the judge rules. Also, Morgan Mead had a message for anyone who wants to try logging in state forests.

“We’re going to be there, we’re going to be loud and we’re going to be a problem,” he said on the courthouse steps.

“A solution,” Sally Stuffin quickly responded. “We’re not a problem. We’re a solution.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

Author: Going Green

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