Massachusetts Judge Dismisses Charges Against Climate Activists and Recognizes Necessity of Protest

Massachusetts Judge Dismisses Charges Against Climate Activists and Recognizes Necessity of Protest

March 28, 2018

Contact: Alice Cherry, (847) 859-9572, info@climatedefenseproject.org.

In a victory for the climate movement yesterday, Judge Mary Ann Driscoll of the West Roxbury District Court in Massachusetts found 13 activists not responsible for charges stemming from a 2016 protest against the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline. Judge Driscoll found that the defendants were motivated by necessity after the activists argued that the pipeline, part of an expansion of regional natural gas infrastructure, harms the climate, poses safety risks, and is unnecessary to meet energy demands.

The activists originally faced charges of trespass and disorderly conduct. Their defense team — attorneys from Climate Defense Project and the local National Lawyers Guild chapter — had prepared for a full trial in which they planned to mount a climate necessity defense, with experts such as climate scientist James Hansen and 350.org founder Bill McKibben on call. Pre-trial discovery revealed that Spectra Energy, the pipeline operator (now owned by Enbridge) had no safety plan in the event of an accident. In a last minute move to avoid a public referendum on the harms of the pipeline (which was opposed by most elected officials in Boston), the prosecutor reduced the charges to civil infractions, depriving the defendants of a jury trial. On Tuesday, Judge Driscoll granted the defendants’ request to find them not responsible by reason of necessity.

The result is a step forward in the national effort to win recognition of the climate necessity defense, and is the most recent example of climate activists using the courts to push back against industry intimidation and legislative efforts to criminalize protest against the fossil fuel industry. Check out more about Climate Defense Project’s climate movement legal work and see our resources for activists and attorneys.

You can read the Climate Disobedience Center’s press release on the outcome here.

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