AUGUSTA — More than a dozen people arrested on Blaine House grounds in May during the Poor People’s Campaign were in court Tuesday to hear that their criminal trespass cases could go to trial in November.

One of the group, Sharon Sandstrum, 59, of New Harbor, opted to change her plea from not guilty to no contest, and was convicted automatically by Judge Eric Walker. Sandstrum was fined $100 for the offense, the penalty jointly recommended by the defense and the state.

Several others among the May 14 arrestees — the numbers vary from the 18 reported in the news to 22 as calculated by the campaign coordinators — were convicted previously, but the majority remained united in their desire to go to trial.

They discussed those plans outside the Capital Judicial Center after the court hearing. All remain free on personal recognizance bail.

They were part of a national anti-poverty demonstration, and police said the demonstrators were arrested when they refused to leave the grounds of the Blaine House after they were ordered to do so.

The Poor People’s Campaign sponsored events in May in more than 40 state capitals across the country as well as the District of Columbia. The organization bills itself as a “national call for moral revival,” formed, according to information on its website, to challenge systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.

After Tuesday’s hearing, attorney Logan Perkins, one of three lawyers representing the remaining defendants, said the demonstrators at the Blaine House, the residence of Maine’s governor, were charged initially with unlawful assembly; but when the formal complaints were filed, the charge was criminal trespass.

Perkins said she expected the state to join the cases for trial, but it appears that they will be handled individually.

“The state is interested in dividing everyone and separating everyone,” Perkins said, adding that it will cost more money to do that.

“We have decided we will request joinder,” she said, in keeping with a Poor People’s Campaign theme that “we’re stronger united.”

Defendants Jodi C. Hayashida, 43, of Auburn, and Heather L. Zimmerman, 33, of Portland, spoke on behalf of the 15 remaining defendants.

“We were bringing voice to the 70,000 people who have yet to receive access to health care, even though people have voted repeatedly for it,” Hayashida said. “The rally and witness on May 14 was the kickoff to 40 days of action. It is the first step in what we envision as a yearlong campaign to build strength through coming together and honestly addressing the four entwined evils: system racism, systemic poverty, militarism and the war economy and ecological devastation.”

She said they will continue to fight the charge.

“We believe and know we are not guilty of what we have been charged with,” Hayashida said.

“We feel it’s important for the public to know what’s going on,” added Zimmerman, who said the demonstrators want access to health care, as well as Medicaid expansion in Maine.

The remaining defendants include nine religious leaders, said the Rev. Carie Johnsen, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. Both she and Marty Soule, of Peaceful Heart Sangha, are from Augusta.

After paying the fine and surcharges, a total of $114, Sandstrum stood outside the Capital Judicial Center with the others as they others discussed their plans to move forward with the case.

Sandstrum changed her plea, she said “because I’m very ill with cancer and it wasn’t certain if I would be able to make the court dates.”

She said she is dealing with metastatic thyroid cancer.

“That’s why access to health care is so important,” Sandstrum said.

She said she is concerned about permitting insurers to deny coverage to people with pre-existing, chronic conditions such as hers.

“I feel fortunate that I have insurance,” Sandstrum said. “I think health care is a basic human right.”

She is a practicing Universalist Unitarian and said her faith calls her to take part in this movement.

“We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every single person,” said Sandstrum. “That means access to basics: food, shelter, safety and health care.”

Zackary E. Ringelstein, the Democratic candidate challenging independent U.S. Sen. Angus King for his seat, was one of those arrested May 14 at the Blaine House.

However, Ringelstein was not among the defendants at the courthouse on Tuesday. Perkins said, “no comment” when asked whether he had been present.

Sandstrum’s fine was similar to that paid by some people arrested on Blaine House grounds, again on criminal trespass charges, in November 2011 during an Occupy Augusta rally.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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