Thursday, June 13, 2013

Delaware: Making people pay for political speech

Some of you may remember that in last year's candidate debate for US House and US Senate at the University of Delaware that Ralph Begleiter demanded and got the arrest of several members of the Green Party who were protesting the exclusion of third-party candidates.

Yesterday, at the Court of Common Pleas in Wilmington, a couple Libertarians got to watch first-hand how the justice system in Delaware plays out.

I had been sitting beside Green Party US House candidate Bernie August at UD, and in the row immediately behind Dez Kahn when the protest started.

I saw, particularly in Kahn's case, that the man in the suit who grappled him into a headlock NEVER identified himself as a police officer.  This becomes crucial when you are charged with "resisting arrest," because you actually have to know that you are being placed under arrest by someone who self-identifies as a officer of the law.

Another Delaware Libertarian was sitting beside me and observed the same thing.

The original trial on the charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest for both August and Kahn was scheduled to occur the week after Easter.  My subpoena to testify apparently arrived at my house about 24 hours after we had left for Florida, so I wasn't available to testify.  The attorney representing Mr. Kahn shrugged off the state demanding that he plead out his client as guilty and rest upon the tender mercies of the court.  Instead, he sought a continuance and contacted me to make sure I was available to testify.

[As a side note: reports from the original trial date confirm that Ralph "you can't be in my debate if you are not a corporatist candidate" Begleiter was not only in attendance but preening to testify about the horrors of being forced to include other voices in the civic process.]

So two Libertarians showed up at the New Castle County Courthouse yesterday at 8:30 am to testify about the major weakness in the State's case.

And waited.  And waited.  And continued to wait on those bizarre benches with no backs outside the courtrooms.

A flurry of activity about 11:30.  Lawyers conferring, people signing papers.

It turns out that the State, confronted with the presence of actual witnesses, was not so eager to put the Chief of the UD Police (who, it turns out, was the cop who forgot to identify himself before trying to strangle Mr. Kahn) on the stand, and was suddenly willing to talk about a plea bargain.

The best of a bad deal:  Bernie August and Dez Kahn accepting "probation before judgment," which means they had to pay a fine and court costs, but left the building with no criminal conviction.

Each man had to fork over slightly below $300 for having exercised his freedom of speech.

The Chief of the UD Police looked like he had swallowed something unpleasant.  I was feeling around in my pocket to see if I could offer him a GasX.

Ironically, while I suppose this was somewhat of a victory for August and Kahn in terms of avoiding a conviction, it was also a pretty grim reminder that the State of Delaware does not take kindly to the idea of widening the political landscape.

But, then again, you have to recall that Governor Markell, Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Congressmen Carney are all advisors to the sponsoring agency of the UD debates, so I guess it makes sense that the only people they want to be seen talking to are the Republicans that they routinely get to thrash very soundly as they toss out the same old tired lines.

God forbid they should have to enter a dialogue over the Delaware City Refinery with a Green, or make their case for more gun control against a Libertarian.

Why that would be ... downright un-American.


Anonymous said...

The same right to Free Speech and Assembly should also apply equally to Dr. Jahi Issa at Delaware State University....

Steven H. Newton said...

I agree. Which was why, all false allegations to contrary aside, the DSU AAUP represented him.

In a few more days the transcripts of the PERB hearing will be available for public release, and then--if you really care--you will be able to follow the documentary trail.

Further than that I am not at liberty to say until the transcripts are part of the public record.