By Gordon Davis
About 50 people came out to the Worcester County Courthouse today and gave support to the Worcester 4 Kelly Square protesters. Most people stood outside the courthouse holding signs regarding BlackLives Matter.
The trial judge hearing the case of the protectors said several things of interest. He said no one in the court could wear a shirt with a message on it. Apparently, one of the defendants had a sweat shirt with “Black Lives Matter“ written on it. A bailiff brought this to the judge’s attention. There was an objection raised by several of the defense attorneys. The judge then said to be fair he would allow policemen to wear suits and ties. It is not clear how this is equivocal, or perhaps, he was joking.
The same Judge seemed to be surprised when the defense attorneys present up to 40 preemptory jury questions in a process called voir doire. The judge did not like some of the questions, especially questions regarding BlackLives Matter, race, and the Ferguson Effect. Although he seemed biased against allowing the issue of race in the voir doire, the Supreme Court of the United States in this 2015-2016 session will hear arguments about whether race is a legitimate preemptory question. Prosecutors in several states have opposed Black jurors and impaneled all White juries.
The trial judge said he would review the questions and give a ruling on which questions he would allow on December 15, 2015. On that date the jury will be selected. There was agreement that 50 to 60 potential jurors would be needed to impanel a jury for the case. The actual trial, with opening statements, will begin sometime in January 2016.
Curiously, the Judge mentioned the so called Worcester Panhandling case that is now in Appeals Court. It is being reevaluated in light of the Supreme Court Ruling allowing panhandling in Lowell. The Judge said panhandling is free speech, but the people could not step off the sidewalk to do it. He also said political sign holders might be a danger to the public or a safety issue, if they stayed on the sidewalk and just waved at people in cars. Is this judge giving the green light for the arrest of political sign holders?
The implications of this trial are grave and could, like the panhandling case, make its way to the United States Supreme Court.
Sometimes it seemed that the Assistant DA acted as if the Judge would favor him no matter what. In regards to a Motion from the defense about misidentification of one of the defendants, the Assistant DA was unprepared and did not have his opposition argument with him. He said it was downstairs. The Judge gave him time to get it. The Assistant DA came back empty handed. One could speculate that he did not write or have the Opposition Memo. The Judge could have allowed the Motion, as the DA had no opposition to it in court. Instead, the Judge told the Assistant DA to get it to him as soon as he could.
A mistake was made by the Judge in his thinking that the Kelley Square protesters had blocked an ambulance.
This mistake showed prejudice on his part. He had come to a conclusion without evidence. He seemed to additionally err in his thinking on whether the disturbing peace statute contains a “legitimate purpose” clause.
This trial will have an impact in Worcester and Massachusetts. It too may find its way to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to get resolved.