Politics & Government

Two Moral Monday protesters arrested in 2016 are still fighting the charges against them

In May 2016, a pair of Moral Monday protesters first faced trespassing charges as they tried and failed to meet with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore over the controversial “bathroom bill,” refusing to leave after the office door slammed shut.

Now Carol Anderson and Dale Herman will appeal those charges in Wake County Superior Court, making what their attorney describes as a first-time argument.

The state’s top House Republican was obligated to hear out the protesters who brought him a flyer, their attorney Scott Holmes said Monday. Under the state Constitution, legislators have a duty to listen even to those citizens who oppose them.

“This is a great opportunity to address this dysfunction in government,” Holmes said.

The case has spun through the courts for several years since the repeal of HB2, the short-lived law that required people to use restrooms in government buildings based on the gender specified on their birth certificates.

In 2017, a District Court judge found Anderson and Herman guilty of trespass charges but dismissed allegations they violated Legislative Building rules after finding those rules unconstitutional on several fronts.

Further wrangling has ensued over the legality of those rules and the police who enforce them, and in 2018, a Superior Court judge rejected arguments that regulating protest activity inside the Legislative Building was illegal.

But attorneys began picking jurors Tuesday solely for the appeal on the trespassing charges.

In a motion to dismiss those charges, Holmes has argued the protesters had previously sent letters to Moore, which went unanswered.

They hoped to arrange a meeting and present the speaker with a petition asking to “meet and listen.”

Once Moore’s door slammed and they were refused entrance, “they were denied the opportunity to speak with anyone about their concerns except the police, who ordered them to leave the premises.”

Holmes compared the Moral Monday scenario to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement, in which violating the law became the only viable form of protest.

Being confronted by the police “made them believe that the leadership of the General Assembly would not speak with people with opposing views,” the motion said. “Their actions became necessary because demonstrating was the only way to convey their message.”

The protesters have also sought to have their court costs dismissed. In a separate motion, Holmes argues that the legislature has violated the state Constitution by directing those fees toward the courts rather than the schools as the law intends.

During pre-trial motions Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Nishma Patel raised objections to the defense possibly making the case that trespassing is impossible in “the people’s building” or that they were expressing First Amendment rights.

Holmes said his case deals with Article 1 of the state Constitution, not the First Amendment, and that it’s not in his plans to argue the impossibility of trespassing.

“I’m not going to argue that people can’t be trespassed,” he said.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.