WASHINGTON — An environmental activist who was arrested while protesting in the Hart Senate Office Building last September avoided a three-year jail term Tuesday when a Washington judge handed down fines and probation instead.
Ted Glick, the policy director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, had feared jail time Tuesday morning but said civil disobedience answered to a "higher law." He was found guilty in May on charges of displaying a banner in a federal building and disorderly conduct.
"I'm not a criminal. This was not a criminal act; it was a technical violation act," Glick said before his noon sentencing hearing. "And it was a needed act because our federal government has to take the lead in pursuing clean energy."
Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg gave Glick, who's 60, a suspended sentence but warned him that he'd head to jail for 30 days if he's arrested again. In addition to the $500 fine per violation, Glick was sentenced to a year's probation and was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service in Washington. Weisberg suggested the Anacostia Watershed Society but gave Glick the freedom to choose his project, as long as it didn't center on global warming.
Weisberg said his office had been inundated with letters supporting Glick's actions but that many of the letters were unhelpful as they portrayed Glick as a hero and were "one-dimensional." He said that despite climate change being an important issue, Glick had violated the law.
"What is being sentenced is not the message but the delivery of the message," Weisberg said.
During the judge's statements, Glick's supporters and family expected the activist to be sent to jail, but Weisberg concluded by saying that he didn't think jail time would be worthwhile.
"On the great scale of things, I don't think the only meaningful punishment is incarceration," he said.
The two charges stemmed from a protest Sept. 8 at which Glick and other demonstrators hung banners in the Hart Senate Office Building urging the Senate to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill had passed the House of Representatives in June 2009. Glick maintains that he entered the building legally, showed identification and had the banners scanned.
Each of the convictions typically carries a maximum of six months in jail, but the U.S. Attorney's Office had asked the judge to triple the sentence because Glick had prior convictions.
Glick has been arrested 16 times and served prison time for most of 1971 for refusing to be inducted into the military. Since 2006, he's been arrested five times for his protests over climate issues.
After the hearing, Glick said he was pleased with the outcome, and he joked that he'll have to fill his calendar now that he isn't headed to jail.
Supporters, including Mike Tidwell, the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, questioned why Glick was faced with lengthy jail time.
"We understand laws were broken and that laws have their purpose, but there comes a time in human history that activists have appealed to a higher law," Tidwell said.
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