Updated at 4:42 p.m.
A discovery violation by the District of Columbia has postponed a bench trial for eight Washington residents arrested in April for demonstrating in favor of local budget autonomy and voting rights.
The defendants were arrested during two protests in April and are facing misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and, in one case, disorderly conduct. Fellow arrestees included Mayor Vincent Gray and a half-dozen councilmembers, but they and the majority of demonstrators opted to avoid court by paying a fee and waiving their right to appear in court, commonly known as "post-and-forfeit."
A bench trial was scheduled to begin Monday morning. In light of the city's last-minute production of video and photos taken during one of the protests, however, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Robert Morin found that a discovery violation had been committed and pushed the trial date to Nov. 15. Morin declined to rule on a motion to dismiss raised by defense attorneys.
The protests took place in April as Congress was considering action on a fiscal year 2011 spending bill that included measures restricting how city officials could spend local tax dollars. The riders served as a rallying point for advocates of D.C. voting rights and home rule.
The protestors are being represented by Bethesda, Md.-based solo practitioner Mark Goldstone, Washington solo practitioner Ann Wilcox, and Paul Strauss, a shadow senator for Washington, D.C. and an attorney with Paul Strauss & Associates, and Richard Bianco, also of Paul Strauss & Associates. One of the defendants is handling his case without an attorney.
Seven of the defendants arrested at an April 11 demonstration are facing a charge of unlawful assembly – blocking passage. The eighth, Michael Brown, also a shadow senator for Washington, is facing a disorderly conduct charge stemming from his participation in an April 15 protest.
Proceedings were held up today after Assistant Attorney General Lilian Shepherd told Magistrate Judge Frederick Sullivan that video and 152 photos taken during the April 11 demonstration by police were being brought to the courthouse. The defense attorneys cried foul, claiming that they had never received the videos and photos during discovery.
Shepherd told the judge that when she first asked U.S. Capitol Police for materials relating to the arrests, they hadn’t produced the videos and photos now at issue. After Wilcox filed a motion to compel discovery on Friday, Shepherd said she learned about the materials from the U.S. Capitol Police.
The case was delayed and reassigned to Morin. When proceedings picked up in the early afternoon, Goldstone said that he and the other attorneys were still reviewing the materials, but argued that the last-minute production could be a Brady violation and grounds for dismissal. Shepherd said she didn’t plan to introduce the video or photos, so there would be no prejudice.
Strauss said that the defense team plans to study the new materials in the coming weeks, adding that the continuance was needed because the defendants were “prejudiced from putting on any meaningful defense.” When the trial finally does begin, U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is expected to testify on behalf of the defendants.
This post was updated to reflect a ruling on the discovery violation.