MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested during a march near Union Square in late September rejected a dismissal offer made by prosecutors when they appeared en masse before a judge Thursday morning.
More than 50 of the roughly 60 protesters who appeared before Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross turned down an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which would see their cases dismissed and sealed if they are not rearrested in the next six months.
The protesters, who were represented mostly by National Lawyers Guild and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law clinic attorneys, lined up early Thursday morning on the first floor of 100 Centre St., just blocks from Zuccotti Park, where protesters have been encamped for weeks.
"These charges will be dropped after the revolution's over," one woman in the gallery mused before the proceeding started as dozens of activists waited for their cases to be heard.
A total of 78 protesters of received desk appearance tickets ordering them to appear in court on Nov. 3 after they were arrested near East 12th Street and University Place on Sept. 24.
Protester Shon Potado, of Philadelphia, said he refused the deal because of the possibility of a rearrest during the occupation. He has been living at Zuccotti Park since the movement began, he said.
"It was a false claim and I'm willing to take it to trial," Potado said after his brief appearance adding he declined the deal in part because "there's no guarantee I won't be arrested again."
The only case that was outright dismissed was that against WNET MetroFocus reporter John Farley, who was handcuffed in the process of covering the protest.
Prosecutors consented to the dismissal of his case after receiving a letter from a WNET President and CEO Neal Shapiro.
"I am gravely concerned about the First Amendment implications of the New York City Police Deparment's actions in this matter," Shapiro wrote to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Farley's was the first case called and the dismissal of his case drew a round of applause from the sitting protesters.
One protester, Issac Berger, said he accepted the ACD offer not because he believes he did anything wrong, but because traveling to fight the charges would be cost prohibitive.
"I can't afford to return to court. I live in New Paltz," the SUNY sophomore said.
Others who do not live in New York, accepted ACDs through their attorneys, from as far away as Hawaii. Nine in total accepted the ACD offer.
Many of the protesters are due back in court for pretrial hearings on Jan. 9, 2012.
Protesters had threatened to tie up the Manhattan District Attorney's office with low-level cases unless all of the charges were dropped.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that it "fully supports every person’s first amendment right to peacefully demonstrate. At the same time, we are charged with enforcing violations of the law."
“As with any case where the police make an arrest, we will evaluate each case individually."
Prosecutors said to date, there have been approximately 555 arrests related to Occupy Wall Street, which consists of 107 summary arrests and 448 Desk Appearance Tickets. The number does not include summonses.
The arrest charges range from violations, which are not crimes, to felonies.
A spokeswoman for the department said the DA's office is "assigning these cases to ADAs in each of the trial bureaus. However, to ensure the greatest degree of consistency and fairness in case evaluation and possible disposition of cases, our Office has assigned a senior felony assistant district attorney to coordinate and supervise the flow of the cases through the court system.
“As an Office, we are committed to a process of case review and disposition that fairly balances the interests of all those involved in the criminal justice system. Those principles will similarly guide our actions in these cases.”