Protesters 'occupy' court to argue for free-speech rights

PORTLAND, Ore. - Dozens of Occupy Portland protesters say they'll fight to the end to prove they were unjustly arrested, but their cases are creating a bottleneck.

The protesters say when they were arrested during recent marches they were within their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully.

Dozens of Occupy Portland protesters, 62 in all, appeared on charges Monday, and many of them asked the judge not to allow the dismissal of most the cases. Prosecutors did ask to dismiss most of the more serious misdemeanor cases like trespassing and interfering with police business.

Prosecutors want to charge many of the cases as Class C misdemeanors, which are treated a lot like traffic infractions simply, to clear up the court calendar.

If that's allowed, a judge would hear those cases and decide on sentences since a jury trial is not an option. But the occupiers and their attorneys say they want their constitutional arguments heard in open court and decided by a jury.

Whether the protesters were among the 27 people arrested in October during the demonstration in the Pearl District's Jamison Square or the 50 occupiers hauled in last November for trespassing in Chapman Square, they argue their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated in the arrests.

A bone of contention in the process is what does the city have to turn over as evidence in the discovery process?

Occupiers' attorneys want all memos and meeting notes from planning sessions with police before the protesters' arrests.

One attorney also wants to know why so many people were arrested in the middle of the day at Chapman Square where protesters set up their camp.

"I'm basically going to be asking the judge to force the district attorney to clarify for me what the authority was for that, because that would be how we mount our defense," said Pete Castleberry, who represents an Occupy Portland protester.

His client was arrested after the city used an ordinance stating police and city officials have the power to close a city park at any time day or night.

"I think there are some major constitutional problems with that ordinance and the way it was applied in this case," Castleberry said.

The case for his one client has generated a stack of paperwork and motions to file are stacking up for all of the occupiers arrested. The misdemeanor court calendar is bursting at the seams.

"I think it has put some pressure on the court - specifically Judge Albrecht who has been handling a majority of the cases, but I think the district attorney's office has another option, which is either to dismiss this case or not bring the charges in the first place," Castleberry said.