Pretty soon, the movement is going to earn itself a new name: Occupy Sacramento Courtrooms.
Dozens of protesters taken into custody at Cesar Chavez Plaza for late-night demonstrations against national income disparities and other issues are working their way into the criminal justice system, and most if not all of them are expected to demand jury trials instead of paying fines and going home, according to Occupy Sacramento activists.
"I'm definitely not going to plead guilty or no contest," said Karen Bernal, a temporarily unemployed union organizer taken into custody last month and arraigned Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court.
Bernal, due back in court Nov. 16, said she is ready to go to trial "if I have to."
"I didn't do anything wrong," she said. "I guess they're forcing our hand. We can either cave in to the local ordinances or we can decide to stand up for our First Amendment rights."
Although the District Attorney's Office has declined to file charges against the protesters, the Sacramento City Attorney's Office has picked up the cases generated by the Police Department's curfew arrests over the past month and is prepared to press them to conviction.
"Our intent is simply to follow the law," said Supervising Deputy City Attorney Gustavo Martinez. "The law is that they cannot remain after hours at the park, and they're in violation of that.
"We're not looking at the content of their speech or what they're protesting or why they're there. We just know they're there, and as prosecutors, we don't have the luxury of selecting to determine who we prosecute or not," Martinez said.
Forty-nine occupiers are scheduled for court appearances today, he said.
Crowds in the second-floor misdemeanor courtrooms downtown have captured the attention of judges and court administrators. Although the protesters' cumulative hit on the courts so far has been "minimal," Presiding Judge-elect Laurie M. Earl said the system is in for trouble if the cases don't get settled out in routine fashion.
"If all those cases go to trial right around the same time, that would have a huge impact on the court," Earl said. "This may be one of those type of cases, because of the political message they're trying to deliver, that they don't settle before trial and we are forced to accommodate all of those cases."
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