Eli goes to court

Monday, October 17th, 2011
posted by admin

I have already explained in video and through previous posts why I joined this fight for justice. I have not yet explained how I was also able to undertake this task through the bravery shown to me by the tree sitters in their mental and spiritual preparation. As Becks said in their most recent update: “I challenge the legal system . . . I challenge you, and I challenge myself to fight back against this repression and stand up for what is right.”

In beginning to think about the tree sit, we both agreed that fulfilling our personal callings here would require continuing to try to expand the action. The tree sit is meant to challenge the coal companies that poison families and the land. However, state and federal agencies permit the coal companies to continue their dirty work without adequate regulation, oversight or accountability. If we are to do the tree sit, then we should continue this path to challenge the system. The same system that so passively permits coal companies to poison families should then have to actively pursue proving that we are criminals for what we have done.

In beginning to plan this action, I knew that the hopes for continued confrontation with systems of injustice after my arrest, would hinge on receiving some length of continuance from the court. I am a full-time graduate student with a part-time research position in Michigan and numerous volunteer appointments (as well as a treehugger). I’m also working with Coal River Mountain Watch to produce a hydrologic analysis of the cumulative impacts of strip mining on the Elkhorn Creek, Pigeon Creek and Laurel Creek watersheds for eventual litigation. From the time I left West Virginia I had to consider whether to heed my original calling in this action, or challenge the system through policy research and legal strategies with Coal River Mountain Watch. I still hoped for the best outcome possible: both legal strategies and direct action for challenging coal companies and corrupt bureaucracies!

And so I, along with my employer, began to lobby Judge Greg Tanner to issue me a continuance. First we requested that my hearing be moved until after my graduation date, and then that it at least be moved from the date of a presentation I was to give to the Graham Sustainability Institute. No luck. I saw that my pie-in-the-sky hopes for accommodation from the Raleigh County Magistrate Court (stop laughing!) were never happening. I bought a plane ticket to fly down to West Virginia for my October 6th hearing and considered my wisest course of action. It was with a heavy heart that I decided that when I got to WV, I would offer to consider a plea of no contest to the prosecutor. If he would agree, and offer me a reasonable plea that I could accept this would allow me to achieve both strategies. I couldn’t have a continued personal action within the legal system, but I could support Becks and Fern when they eventually go that route. And I could preserve capacity to handle other work important to the fight to ending the injustices of strip mining. Let’s be honest – as proud as I am of the Coal River Tree Sit and all of the direct action in the past, it’s going to take everything we’ve got going forward.

Indeed, the prosecutor did offer me a very reasonable no contest plea, and Judge Greg Tanner wasn’t as mean i thought he might be. I paid a $50 fine and court fees, while proudly representing myself in the chambers. By pleading no contest I have agreed to be sentenced without being found guilty of the alleged criminal acts. In other words, I agree to pay the fine but I never allow the court to establish the precise facts about exactly what I did and didn’t do during the tree sit. Although a capitulation to state punishment for a crime of conscience, I still avoided ever pleading guilty or being found guilty by the court. This is good enough for me, and it will help our defense in the civil suit brought against us by Alpha Natural Resources.

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