Monday, January 16, 2017
Editors' Note: The HRAH Blog welcomes Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England School of Law. Lauren, who works with the Water Protector's Legal Collective, writes this report.
by Lauren Carasik
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters have largely faded from view since the Department of the Army declined to issue the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to drill under the Missouri River on December 4. The agency said it would prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate alternative routes for the pipeline, assess the pipeline’s environmental and cultural impacts, and, notably, include an analysis of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s treaty rights. Yet more than a month later, the Army Corps has not published a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS, prompting advocates to call on the Corps to begin the process without delay. The sense of urgency is motivated by the expectation that the incoming administration will act quickly to remove impediments to the pipeline’s completion. President-elect Donald Trump has indicated his support for the DAPL and other energy infrastructure projects, including the Keystone XL Pipeline. Rick Perry, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Energy, recently resigned his position on the board of the DAPL’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, and Scott Pruitt, tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is a leading opponent of environmental regulations. Adding to the dismay, the Senate recently elected John Hoeven, (R-ND), a pipeline supporter, as chair of the Indian Affairs Committee. Fearing a government hostile to the interests of DAPL opponents, activists have redoubled efforts pressuring the project’s financiers to divest.
Meanwhile, as the New Yorker notes, the criminal cases against nearly 600 water protectors arrested in connection with the protests are becoming increasingly contentious, at a time when many defendants whose cases are moving forward are still unrepresented by a lawyer. The shortage of defense attorneys admitted to practice in North Dakota prompted the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC), to submit a petition in December asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to temporarily ease the rules for admission to practice law in the state. Currently, out-of-state lawyers must either apply to be admitted to the North Dakota bar pro hac vice or apply for reciprocity, both of which still require the continued participation of in-state counsel. Among those submitting comments in support of the petition were nearly 200 law professors, who wrote that “We are concerned that under these circumstances the rights guaranteed the defendants by the state and federal constitutions cannot be upheld. The right of both indigent and non-indigent defendants to adequate and effective counsel undergirds the guarantees of a fair and speedy trial, due process and equal protection that constitute the cornerstones of the rule of law.”
Compounding concern about fair trials, Acting Morton County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson has evinced his hostility to the arrestees, including by resisting discovery requests and filing a motion to require public defenders to keep track of costs and expenses so that the state can seek reimbursement from defendants, suggesting that their right to counsel is contingent on the nature of and motivation for the crimes for which they are charged. Erikson argued that “Each protester attack on our police officers, each riot, and each incidence of private property destruction has been done to create fake news videos used to bring attention, celebrities, both passionate and gullible people, and finally money – all to be focused on multiple issues of national discontent… Most protest criminal defendants are simply props for videos of staged events.” He further said that “Our systems are set up so criminal defendants have their constitutional rights enforced. To the contrary, our systems are not set up to be foddered by economic weaponry when people from around the world come to intentionally commit crimes for political purposes and have North Dakota taxpayers pick up the tab.” Erickson’s argument apparently persuaded Judge Bruce A. Romanick, who presided over the first criminal trial: he ordered the two water protectors convicted in December to repay $500 in costs.
WPLC president Brandy Toelupe called Erickson’s characterizations inflammatory, and “intended to poison local jury pools to prevent fair trials and to provide cover for his mass overcharging and false charging of arrestees, dearth of evidence, and refusal to comply with local and Constitutional requirements for producing required discovery in these cases.”