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(en) Was the DAN really of our color? Seattle DAN legal defense: not a model

From Richard Singer <ricinger@inch.com>
Date Wed, 8 Mar 2000 05:44:35 -0500

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

>To: NYC-DAN@topica.com
>From: lisa daugaard <lisadaugaard@yahoo.com>
>Subject: [nyc-dan] Seattle DAN legal defense: not a model

There are evidently substantial misconceptions about
the way WTO arrestees in Seattle have been defended,
and by whom.  Because I believe strongly that direct
action participants need excellent, aggressive and
well-prepared legal assistance, I offer my view that
"DAN legal" did not provide that effectively in
Seattle, though other lawyers did, and continue to.

The DAN legal team has not handled, directed, plannned
or coordinated the defense of the vast majority of WTO
cases--local public defenders have.  Other defendants
have been represented by volunteer Seattle attorneys
who have neither been trained nor directed by Katya
Komisaruk or DAN.  It has been legal research and
investigation by public defenders and local attorneys,
often in close partnership with their clients, that
has resulted in the dismissal of all but a handful of
the misdemeanor cases.  The remainder are going to
trial; we've won all of them so far.

Nor is "DAN legal" defending those charged with
felonies, or training the attorneys who are, most of
whom have considerably more criminal defense
experience than Katya Komisaruk.  Though these
defendants may, and I hope will, get excellent
representation from local lawyers, it is largely true
that this is occurring without support from "the
movement," as joi wrote.

In many ways, maximally effective legal representation
of WTO arrestees was compromised because DAN set up a
legal team without significant involvement from
attorneys with experience in local criminal courts. 
Real opportunities were lost to get folks out of jail
and back on the streets using procedures such as writs
of habeas corpus after arrestees had been detained
more than 48 hours, the limit under local court rules.
 Public defenders were prepared to bring such writs,
but the DAN legal team had never considered them and
was unprepared to take advantage of that option.  It
was also, frankly, stunning to me to come to court
while WTO arrestees were being arraigned to find 7or
8 members of the "DAN legal team" in court NOT
representing any of the defendants.  When I asked why,
it was because they were not admitted to practice in
Washington, or were, but had no criminal experience,
or simply had not been instructed that actually
representing people was part of the "DAN legal"
undertaking.  Public defenders handled all or
virtually all of the arraignments, with no meaningful
coordination from DAN.

Based on experiences elsewhere, "DAN legal" seemed to
expect the Seattle jail, courts and prosecutors to
quickly capitulate to the sheer number of people
arrested.  When that did not happen, and our folks
were still in jail 3, 4, and 5 days after arrest, as
street actions petered out, "DAN legal" had no other
plan.  Eventually, when arrestees gave their names and
most got released, "DAN legal" was nowhere to be found
to make sure that the jail located and processed
everyone; there were pockets of 20 & 40 people in
various facilities who would have been left behind but
for the work of public defenders who volunteered all
weekend to vindicate what was supposed to be DAN's
solidarity strategy of stranding no one.

Most remarkably, "DAN legal" negotiated away one of
the most powerful positions WTO protesters attained
during the entire week.  On Thursday, over 500 people
were in the King County Jail.  5,000-10,000 protesters
defied police and marched from all over the city,
converging on the jail, surrounding it and pledging
not to leave until the arrestees were all released.
This had a devastating effect on local courts and the
jail--all processing of in-custody defendants came to
a halt because they could not get people in and out of
the jail securely.  Thousands were prepared to
continue barricading the jail, for several days if
necessary.  Many more were marching toward the jail to
strengthen the force, when the amazing word came that
"DAN legal" was asking people to LEAVE.  Why?  Because
Katya Komisaruk & Co. had negotiated with the jail
that they would get rid of the masses outside if the
jail allowed a couple of DAN legal representatives to
meet with the arrestees.  This was mysterious since
DAN legal representatives had already been permitted
to meet with arrestees alone and in groups in the
jail.  Everyone outside left, the pressure was off,
and the arrestees remained in custody for several more
days.  Ironically, arrestees had more restricted
access to counsel in the jail after DAN legal brokered
this deal than they had had before.

It is worth noting that the other two legal efforts
during WTO--the challenge to the state of emergency in
federal court and a motion for a temporary restraining
order requiring the police to give arrestees accessto
counsel prior to their arrival at the jail--were
brought by attorneys outside of the DAN legal team.

As amazing and unique as the WTO protests were
(greatly aided by the unique miscues by local police),
this was hardly the first mass arrest of its size for
our generation.  It should not be regarded as a model
of effective legal coordination, as it apparently is
in some quarters.  The legal successes that we've seen
here have come despite, not because of, "DAN legal."

So, three lessons: (i) Katya Komisaruk is not the only
lawyer in America who has ever thought about the
effective representation of political arrestees, and a
healthy dose of skepticism toward her particular
approach to activist legal defense is warranted ; (ii)
while the principle of jail solidarity may be
universal, how it plays out will vary depending on
local legal & court culture; and (iii) because local
culture is critical to the outcome, lawyers intimately
familiar with it need to be involved in strategic

Lisa Daugaard
Staff Attorney
Seattle/King County Public Defender Assn.
810-3rd Avenue, 8th Floor
Seattle, WA 98104
ph.:(206) 447-3900 ext. 729; fax: (206) 447-2349

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