Moral Monday defendants consider their options
Some Moral Monday protesters plan to refuse a plea offer made by Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.
Durham attorney Scott Holmes, who represents more than 50 Moral Monday defendants, held a meeting Thursday to talk to them about what might happen in court. After the meeting, some said they planned to fight the charges, while others said they were still considering what to do.
The Moral Monday defendants are people who went to the General Assembly during the legislative session to protest the direction lawmakers were taking with election laws, abortion regulations, reduction of public education and cutting off Medicaid and unemployment benefits.
The protesters were each charged with three misdemeanors - second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse and violation of building rules, which generally refers to holding up a sign or placard.
Willoughby offered protesters a plea deal in which he will dismiss the charges if a defendant performs 25 hours of community service and pays $180 in court costs.
"Probably my plea is not guilty of everything," said Nancy Brown of Chatham County.
Brown, 58, said she was not singing or holding a sign when she was arrested, although she said she joined in singing earlier.
"I don't want to take a deal when I believe what I was doing is not against the law," she said. "It was some building rules they made up for this group of protesters as opposed to other protesters."
Hank Eichin, 74, who said he was in the U.S. Air Force during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and couldn't protest then, said he decided he wanted to participate in Moral Mondays. He was arrested on May 10.
Eichin said he would do the community service, but did not want to pay court costs.
"I did not hold up any sign," he said. "I did not have a sign, so I was arrested under false pretense. I told the magistrate, but he said, 'Bring it up with the judge.'"
The legislators could have taken the opportunity to meet with and hear what the people had to say, Eichin said.
Eichin said he would probably confer with Holmes about his options in court before making a final decision.
Trina Harrison, a retired nurse, said she's not sure what she will do.
"I haven't really decided," she said. "I personally feel like I wasn't doing anything wrong. I haven't broken any laws because I was trying to address legislators who were refusing to listen."
Tim High wore an orange T-shirt Thursday that said, "I was arrested for civil disobedience at the General Assembly and proud of it."
High, who lives south of Carrboro, said he wasn't holding up a sign, but had one folded in his hand. He sang a couple of songs with other protesters.
He said he'll plead not guilty and opt for a trial, especially after learning that Tea Party advocates previously had chanted and protested inside the General Assembly and even threw tea bags, yet no one was arrested.
"I'll go to jail before I pay a nickel," he said.