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Protester’s Day In Court A Disappointment Activist Gets Off On Technicality

Tue., Oct. 1, 1996

Ben White came to court Monday eager to fight for his principles - and make a political statement or two.

The animal-rights activist from Friday Harbor, Wash., arrested for trespassing during a protest at the Spokane Arena, showed up armed with statistics and quotations to back his cause.

He was going to defend his protest as peaceful free speech - something that should be allowed in public places or, in this case, while hanging off the side of the Arena with a banner condemning the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Refusing to pay a $500 fine, White, 45, was prepared to spend the next 90 days in jail.

“I have sole care of my two children, and I was ready for people to take care of them,” he said.

But his day in court amounted to sitting through an hour of trial, then hearing Spokane County District Judge Sara Derr dismiss the charge on a technicality.

Derr said Assistant City Attorney Kathleen Thompson, in her first jury trial, had failed to establish that the Arena is owned by the city.

Her witnesses established that White and Mike Toutant of Coeur d’Alene had climbed the roof of the Arena in September 1995.

Dangling from ropes, the protesters unfurled a banner urging parents to boycott the circus for abusing elephants. The two were cited by police and released. Toutant pleaded guilty and paid a $558 fine.

White, Pacific area director of Friends of Animals, refused to accept a plea bargain.

With Spokane attorney Pete March, he developed his defense and looked forward to the trial.

Derr’s ruling messed up the plan.

But, philosophic to the end, White decided justice was done: “We have to deal with the legal system the way it is.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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