AUGUSTA — A Liberty woman was convicted Friday of criminal trespassing for protesting on the grounds of the governor’s residence in November.

Diane H. Messer, 59, was fined $400 for the conviction and her request to perform community service instead was rejected.

She had testified that she was part of the Occupy Augusta movement and exercising her First Amendment right to protest at the Blaine House. Messer was the first of a group of nine to be tried on charges stemming from their Nov. 27 protest of an order that they get a permit to use nearby Capitol Park, which had been occupied by protesters since Oct. 15.

“Obviously the prosecution in the case is not a reflection on the Occupy Maine movement or any of its supporters,” Acting District Attorney Alan Kelley said. “The prosecution is based on the fact that the proponents of any cause or movement, however just they may feel the cause, must recognize they may be lawfully excluded from public property when there is an overriding legitimate public interest in doing so.”

Justice Nancy Mills said Messer showed no acceptance of responsibility for her actions. The judge said she understood her passion about First Amendment issues, but told Messer it should be tempered with respect for law.

Jurors deliberated for about 45 minutes Friday morning in Kennebec County Superior Court after spending about two hours considering the evidence Thursday afternoon.

At least one of the other people charged in the Blaine House protest, Michael Reynolds, 38, of Lewiston, teared up as he hugged Messer after the sentencing. Messer declined to comment.

The conviction might adjust the stance of some of the remaining protesters, who have all pleaded not guilty and requested jury trials.

“We’ll have to digest the verdict, inform the defendants and list their options,” said attorney Philip Worden, who represents Messer and several others. Attorney Lynne Williams is working with him.

Worden said the protesters were offered a deferred disposition in which their sentencing would be deferred for 12 months if they plead guilty. Under the terms offered by the state, they would be required to refrain from criminal conduct, pay $25 a month supervision fee to the district attorney’s office and make a charitable donation of $100. If they met the requirements, the plea could be withdrawn and the charge dismissed.

“We would welcome plea discussions with the remaining defendants if they’re interested in discussing the case,” Kelley said Friday after the trial.

Mills ordered Messer to pay a $400 fine for the criminal trespass offense, rejecting a defense proposal that Messer be sentenced to community service, in particular volunteering to assist at Pine Tree Legal Services, which serves low-income Mainers.

“Your honor, I would very much like to help others in difficult legal circumstances,” she said.

Messer also told the judge that she had a previous civil violation — for which she was fined $100 — related to a refusal to leave an area in Washington, D.C., where thousands of people were protesting the proposed TransCanada Keystone pipeline.

“Community service is the most appropriate sentence for non-violent civil disobedience,” Worden wrote in a memo he presented to the judge just after the verdict was announced. “As the court undoubtedly knows from her testimony, she has strong views about her constitutional rights, what she sees as problems with our political system and how we treat the environment. The point the defense wants to stress, however, is that her history shows that even with these strong views she is not prone to law-breaking.”

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney James Mitchell Jr., had asked for a fine of $500.

“We don’t think jail is appropriate,” Mitchell said, and he argued against the proposal to allow Messer to perform community service work.

The others facing a similar charge of criminal trespass are Reynolds, Elizabeth Burke, 48, of Union; Gregory M. Fahy, 44, of Augusta; Jenny Gray, 54, and Patricia L. Messier, 63, both of Wiscasset; Kimberley Cormier, 47, a Benton selectwoman; James Freeman, 62, of Verona Island, and David J. Page, 44, of Surry.

All are scheduled to be in court for a docket call on April 3.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

 


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