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Wednesday, December 12, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: ‘Necessity defense’ will have its day in court

Rev. George Taylor, visitation pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church, speaksat a rally Monday, Feb. 13, 2107. After being arrested during a protest in which he stood on rail tracks to block fossil fuel transports, Taylor will be allowed to argue a necessity defense at his trial. The necessity in this argument will be to stop climate change through the burning fossil fuels. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Rev. George Taylor, visitation pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church, speaksat a rally Monday, Feb. 13, 2107. After being arrested during a protest in which he stood on rail tracks to block fossil fuel transports, Taylor will be allowed to argue a necessity defense at his trial. The necessity in this argument will be to stop climate change through the burning fossil fuels. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane has a long and colorful history of “taking it to the streets” on everything from the Wobblies’ free speech and labor demonstrations a century ago to more recent protests on issues like abortion, nuclear arms, war and coal trains.

When folks get passionate about an issue, they tend to do things that other folks think they shouldn’t. Sometimes they get arrested for things like trespassing or disturbing the peace.

When the protesters go to court, they often try to offer a “necessity defense,” which is a way of saying, “Yes, I did something a little bit bad, like trespassing, because I was trying to prevent a bigger evil. So I should be found not guilty.”

Whether you think they ought to skate with such an argument probably depends on whether you agree with their stance on the issue they were protesting.

If you were worried that the nuclear arms buildup in the early 1980s was about to turn the Earth into a moonscape, you might’ve thought folks who blocked the railroad tracks to stop the White Trains carrying nukes to the submarines at Bangor naval base should get off scot-free. If you believe all abortion is murder, you might’ve thought members of SHARE were justified in blocking access to the Sixth Avenue Medical Building, even after a judge told them not to.

If you are not so inclined, you might be more likely to say they should sit down, shut up, accept that civil disobedience comes with a price … and pay up.

Generally speaking, judges are not big on the necessity defense, even when protesters make eloquent arguments about the greater good, or invoke the Nuremberg Principles as a reason to fight against an unjust law. Judges usually have a limited tolerance for would-be Clarence Darrows lecturing them about how to run their courtrooms, so they often don’t let protesters or their lawyers make a necessity defense argument to the jury.

That means a simple trespass case against a protester comes down to a fairly simple set of facts: Were you on private property? Did you have permission to be there? Did someone tell you to get off? Did you stick around anyway? Answer those questions “Yes, no, yes, yes,” and you are pretty much toast.

But the Rev. George Taylor, who was arrested last year for standing on the railroad tracks to protest the coal and oil trains that come through Spokane, will be allowed to argue a necessity defense at his trial. The necessity in this argument will be to stop climate change through the burning of fossil fuels.

The Inlander reported recently that Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes will let Taylor’s jury hear that argument in his upcoming trial. It could make Taylor’s trial more interesting than many previous court showdowns brought on by protests.

Coming this week

Speaking of court showdowns, the latest installment in the epic education battle known as the McCleary case takes place Tuesday morning before the Washington Supreme Court.

That’s when the justices will hear attorneys for the state argue the Legislature has complied with the court’s order to fairly and fully fund public education for the state’s children with the changes it approved this summer in its overtime session.

Attorneys for the families challenging the way the state has handled K-12 education for decades will argue that legislators didn’t do enough, that the court should make them do more, maybe take over the budget, issue sanctions and make all lawmakers sit in a corner wearing “dunce” caps.

OK, probably not that last one.

The justices aren’t likely to rule from the bench, but the questions they ask are always good theater, as well as providing a glimpse of how they are viewing the two sides’ arguments.

Voter alert

Washington counties mailed out their ballots last week, which means yours should be in the mailbox already or sometime this week.

Spokane County voters also might want to open the envelope to make sure there’s an actual ballot inside. At least two of the county’s 305,000 voters won’t find one. A glitch in the processing and mailing of ballots resulted in at least two cards that control the printing being inadvertently put in envelopes and sent out.

The cards are supposed to be pulled before the ballots are bundled for mailing, but a few weren’t. Most of the errant cards were found before the ballots were mailed, but at least two made it into envelopes. So someone in Precinct 9600, which is in Latah, and someone in Precinct 7009, which is near Deer Park, have cards instead of ballots.

They should call the Spokane County elections office, as should anyone else who doesn’t get a ballot, at (509) 477-2320.

Voters in other counties don’t need to watch out for printing cards, but they, too, should call their elections offices if the ballot doesn’t arrive in the mail this week.


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