December 11, 2012

Final Occupy Augusta defendant pleads guilty to Blaine House trespassing

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The ninth and final defendant charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the grounds of the governor's residence last year pleaded guilty Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

click image to enlarge

Protesters are arrested Nov. 27, 2011 on the lawn of the Blaine House, during a rally by Occupy Augusta. Nine people were charged with criminal trespass after refusing to leave the lawn of the governor's mansion.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

However, James H. Freeman, 63, of Verona Island, will be able to withdraw that guilty plea and the charge will be dismissed if he successfully completes a six-month period of deferred disposition.

The protest at the Blaine House on Nov. 27, 2011, came after Occupy Augusta participants, who had been camping in nearby Capitol Park since mid-October, were told they would need a permit to continue the tent city and that they could no longer remain overnight.

The protesters left the park after a two-month run, but many continue to work on the Occupy movement's aim of increasing discussion about the disproportionate political influence of the country's wealthiest 1 percent.

Lynne Williams, one of two attorneys who represented five of the defendants convicted after jury trials, said Freeman talked with her and she recommended accepting the deferred disposition offer.

"I thought it was best to live to fight another day," Williams said.

Williams said some of the defendants arrested at the Blaine House "continue to do organizing and even lobbying at the Legislature on issues that were raised by Occupy movement."

"On a certain level, it was an educational process for them because some of them had never done something like this before," she said. Freeman had been involved in previous protests.

Williams said those she represented "consider it a very positive experience, both the Occupy and the courtroom experience. They felt the jurors really listened to them."

In recent months, protesters rallied at the State House against corporate greed and at Colby College, where they sought the removal of Robert E. Diamond as chairman of the college's Board of Trustees. Diamond, a 1973 Colby graduate, was chief executive officer of the British bank Barclays while it was embroiled in a rate-fixing scandal.

Under Freeman's deferred disposition arrangement, he agreed to avoid committing any crimes and pay a $25 supervision fee to the Kennebec County district attorney's office.

His case was continued until June 11.

Eight other defendants arrested Nov. 27, 2011, were convicted of criminal trespass and paid fines ranging from $100 to $400: Elizabeth A. Burke, 49, of Union; Kimberly G. Cormier, 48, of Benton; Gregory Fahy, 45, of Hallowell; Jenny M. Gray, 55, of Wiscasset; Diane Messer, 59, of Liberty; Patricia L. Messier, 65, of Wiscasset; David J. Page, 45, of Surry; and Michael J. Reynolds, 39, of Lewiston.

A trial for four of the women -- Burke, Cormier, Messier and Gray -- and Page initially ended in a mistrial in April after a jury couldn't reach a verdict. They were convicted of criminal trespass during a second trial in July. Page pleaded guilty separately.

Cormier, a Benton selectwoman who was unsuccessfully targeted for removal as a town official by some residents following her arrest, said Tuesday that she will continue to look for ways to be involved.

"I had two trials," Cormier said. "I was at least lucky to tell my story to more than would have listened to me otherwise. Honestly, I think we had a lot of sympathy from the jury members. People are tired of being under the control of corporations."

Cormier said she would consider being involved in Occupy lobbying efforts at the State House if it's worthwhile, "and I wish more people would."

"The number of people dissatisfied with what's going on is a lot greater than who's showing up at the protests," she said.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631
badams@mainetoday.com

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