Lawyers volunteer to represent DNC protesters
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” A couple of dozen lawyers have volunteered to represent protesters arrested during the Democratic National Convention, and a Colorado lawyers group is recruiting more.
The DNC-People’s Law Project, formed by Colorado lawyers belonging to the National Lawyers Guild, aims to prevent a repeat of mass arrests at past conventions.
In 2004, more than 1,800 people were arrested during the Republican National Convention in New York in what the New York Civil Liberties Union contends was a violation of protesters’ civil rights.
“We want to make sure the message of social justice flourishes and make sure people’s rights aren’t trampled as at previous RNCs and DNCs,” said Brian Vicente, executive director of the People’s Law Project.
About 70 lawyers attended sessions Friday at the University of Denver to learn how to defend people arrested during the DNC in Denver Aug. 25-28. They went over case law supporting First Amendment rights and discussed issues such as how to ensure clients don’t have to spend days in jail waiting to bond out. Vicente said he hoped most attendees would volunteer to represent protesters at the DNC.
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Sean Dingle, a former prosecutor, said there will be tension between police officers trying to maintain order and some protesters seeking to push the limits of free speech.
“You may have a right to free speech, but if it comes down to it, you could be arrested and you could be hurt,” he said in one session at DU. “I’m not here to bash the police. This is going to be an incredibly difficult position for them to be in.”
In the past nine months, the People’s Law Project has been training protesters to know their rights, legal observers who will record police responses during the DNC, and lawyers willing to represent arrested protesters free of charge, Vicente said.
The project also plans to hand out temporary tattoos with important phone numbers, so if people get arrested, they will have the information handy, Vicente said.
Attorney David Lane has handled free-speech cases involving a man who was arrested after approaching Vice President Dick Cheney to criticize policies in Iraq and former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who wrote an essay comparing some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi.
During one session Friday in which he was a panelist, Lane said he expects constitutional rights to free speech and due process to get a “serious pounding” during the convention.
“Your right to free speech goes about as far as a cop’s billy club will allow it to go,” Lane said.
However, Lane also said the Denver city attorney generally has been supportive of First Amendment rights, and he was encouraged by police restraint and individual officers’ defense of free-speech rights during the last Columbus Day parade in Denver.