In 2015, we’ll be sending out weekly updates about the work we’re doing. Check out our first one! The St. Louis Legal Collective formed spontaneously in response to the Mike Brown protests to provide accessible, democratic and accountable legal support to people fighting for social justice in St. Louis City and County. We currently have 15 core collective members and work with over 100 other movement volunteers. We are regular people (not lawyers) who refuse to allow the legal system to separate and silence us. To get involved email email@example.com.
As mass arrests have decreased the focus of our work has shifted from primarily providing protest support (24/7 hotline, tracking people through the system, dispatching lawyers for jail visits, coordinating with arrestees friends and family, posting bail, dealing with warrants, giving rides home from jail, etc.) to helping people fight their court cases. We’ve scaled back the jail support hotline hours to Mondays and Thursdays from 9:30am - 1pm - is this correct. However if you’re planning an action and you’d like to arrange jail support we’re still here for you! If possible please give us at least two days notice and email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the jail support hotline (314-862-2249) during our regular hours.
This week, many protesters who were arrested and charged with felonies during the protests immediately following the grand jury announcement appeared in court for the first time. Twenty-four people had court appearances this week. Jail support volunteers have been giving people rides to court and going with them inside court to give them support. We’ve been making sure everything is going smoothly with their lawyers and that the protesters and our team understand what the statuses of cases are and any challenges protesters are facing in the court room, etc. A huge shoutout to all of the volunteers who have been making court-date reminder calls and waking up very early to drive protesters to court and accompany them in the courtroom. If you are interested in volunteering, email email@example.com.
We're continuing to act as liaisons between protesters and their lawyers. Most of the cases are going to grand jury, and thus far people have been getting continuances so not that much is being determined at these court dates. There will continue to be many court appearances all this month and into next month.
If you need to check whether you or a friend has a court date you can go to https://www.courts.mo.gov/casenet/base/welcome.do and search by name or case number.
Protesters Still in Jail
There are approximately (the number fluctuates from day to day) 15 protesters still in jail, with bail amounts ranging from $20,000-$200,000, with the majority in the $20,000-$50,000 range. We've hired lawyers for the vast majority of these people, so their attorneys are working on getting their bail reduced to amounts that we will hopefully be able to pay. Some people have hired their own private attorneys who are also working on bond reductions.
Two people called us last week that were arrested in late December for charges stemming from August protests. The police say they have forensic evidence that ties these people to burglary. We're expecting to hear of more cases like this in the coming weeks. One of the people who called had a bond reduction hearing and was released early this week. We're working on getting a lawyer for the other one so he can hopefully also have his bond reduced and get out of jail soon.
Finding Attorneys for Protesters
We are also continuing to find attorneys for protesters. At this point, almost everyone with felony charges has a lawyer; either a public defender, a pro-bono attorney, a private attorney we’re paying on a "low bono" basis (these are good attorneys with good politics taking protest cases for reduced rates), or have hired their own attorney.
We want to make sure people have good attorneys because the quality of their attorneys will directly impact their case outcomes. People are facing serious sentences; one person is facing life in prison and many are facing up to 10 years in prison. So we want to make sure we are using our resources in ways that are going to get people the best possible long-term outcomes.
For people who have municipal charges stemming from protests we’ve contracted with the Arch City Defenders, a non-profit law firm that specializes in municipal cases.
Josh Williams Update
Some people might be specifically interested in an update about Josh Williams, a well known Ferguson activist who was arrested two weeks ago on arson charges. Josh is being held on $30,000 cash-only bail, this means we can’t use a bailbonds person to get him out. (See here for a beautifully written article about Josh from Hands Up United co-founder Tory Russel). We have raised about $14,000 for Josh's legal defense fund. His lawyer had a bond reduction hearing on Monday, but the judge denied the bond reduction even though we said we could put down $15,000 cash for his bond and the lawyer offered a whole host of other bargaining chips. Josh has another hearing on Monday January 12 when his lawyers will attempt to get a bond reduction again. Josh also has a new lawyer, Nick Zotos, who has a reputation for being a very, very good criminal defense attorney. A support committee for Josh is forming; email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with a legal collective member if you are interested in joining. Jermell, one of Josh's friends and fellow activists, created this awesome website: http://therealjosh95.wix.com/we-the-people where you can donate to Josh’s legal defense fund. There is also a section where people can write notes of encouragement that will be delivered to Josh.
Occupy the Police
The legal collective provided jail support for theNew Year’s Eve Occupy the Police action. Thirty-one arrests occurred as part of the day of action, including six people who were occupying the St. Louis City police headquarters and more than a dozen who blockaded an intersection. It took 13 hours to post all of the bonds (because the St. Louis City Justice Center would only allow us to post one bond per hour!), but eventuallyeveryone was released.
We’ve started a case management working group to meet the needs of protesters with serious charges who need extra support and attention. The working group is made up of volunteer teams that are each matched with specific protesters. These “case managers” help coordinate with protesters’ attorneys, parole officers, etc. and provide a constant link between the legal collective and the protesters’ friends and families. They have been giving rides to family members and friends so they can visit their loved ones in jail, ensuring that family and friends have sufficient phone credits so they can talk to their incarcerated loved ones on the phone, following up on action items to get protesters out of jail, and working on setting up individualized support committees for protesters.
We're running low on money, so spread around the fundraising link: bit.ly/fergusonbailfund. We’ll be doing a big fundraising push in the coming weeks. We’ll continue to provide the bail fund for actions but the amount needed for that has dramatically decreased. We specifically need money to keep hiring attorneys and for costs associated with taking cases to trial (depositions, investigators, etc.) In the criminal justice system people are frequently forced to take plea agreements they don’t want and aren’t good for them because they don’t have money to properly fight their charges. No protest in the United States in the last 15 years has even remotely resulted in the amount of felony charges as the Mike Brown protests in St. Louis City and County (over 70). We stood shoulder to shoulder in the streets and now it’s time to stand up and fight back in the courts!
Meeting for arrested protesters
We are having a meeting at the end of the month (exact details TBD) for protesters who’ve been arrested (especially people facing felony charges and serious jail time) and their friends and families. We're planning on talking about how to create a support system with one another as people are navigating the often confusing and disempowering legal process, and organizing to challenge jail conditions and the prison system. If you’re interested in helping plan that meeting or attending, email email@example.com.
It is good if this group gives all collected money to help incarcerated people.
I will alsoalso look for updates about Mr. Williams on this site.
Is this organization run by occupy?