No substantial gain in our efforts to continually evolve into a more humane and caring society has been made without the willingness of individuals-with non violence as both a creed and a strategy–to step outside the framework of law and tradition in order to correct wrongs when conventional measures had failed. These are the words of 81 year old war veteran Roland Micklin, one of the 105 people who have so far been arrested in West Virginia since February 3 for interfering with mountain top removal mining. The Climate Ground Zero campaign adopted non violence in response to the Federal Fourth Circuit Court overruled a lower West Virginia Court that had prohibited coal companies from illegally burying streams with mining wastes. After the ruling, blasting resumed on the Coal River with a vengeance, as Massey Energy signaled that it was back in the business of blowing up mountains.
Since the first action much has happened, one of them being that the Obama administration has put a temporary hold on all of the pending MTR permits in Appalachia pending further, and presumable more stringent review. Our sources in Washington are telling us that the EPA and Obama are aware of the protests, and that they are having an effect.
However effective, non violence has its cost and one of these is that we spend a lot of time either in jail or in court. After our first action, in which we halted blasting preparations on Coal River Mountain, we were not only charged with trespass, we were hit with a temporary restraining order which attempted to restrict our rights to free speech. On March of this year was arrested on contempt of court charges for allegedly recruiting two students at the Capitol Climate Action in Washington DC. While I represented myself and beat the charge, four others were convicted of contempt on that day and now face jail time. That ruling is now under appeal
Massey Energy, the coal company doing the excavating, has indicated that it intends to sue every protestor who violates the restraining order, which has now been extended by Raleigh District Court Judge Burnside into a full injunction. So far over a dozen people have defied the injunction, and most are facing not only huge damage awards but also charges of criminal contempt of court. It is very likely that some of them will be sentenced in. Other trials are scheduled for November, including that of actor Darryl Hannah and NASA scientist James Hanson, who were arrested on June 23 along with 30 other people including 82 year old Ken Heckler, a former US Representative and staunch crusader for the rights of coal miners and a long time strip mining opponent.
In the beginning, those of us who were arrested (And I have been arrested five times this year.) had to represent ourselves in court. We had no money for lawyers nor did we know any who would work pro bono. In late February we got the number for Roger Foreman, a Charleston attorney who we were told might be interested. I called Roger and he immediately committed to helping us. Roger has a long history of representing clients who were injured or made sick by the coal companies, and has succeeded in getting them benefits even from Massey Energy, by far the worst offender when it comes to workers health and safety.
Another attorney joined our team shortly thereafter. Tom Rist is actually the son of John Rist III, who works for Spellman and Battle, the high powered law firm that is suing us on behalf of Massey Energy. Tom studied law at West Virginia University College of law and received his degree in 2002 after which he set up a successful law practice in California representing victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. I first met him in December in Rock Creek, where the Climate Ground Zero headquarters is located, just after he returned to his home town of Beckley, West Virginia because he wanted to do something about mountain top removal. At that time, he was probably thinking that he would be filling lawsuits against Massey, not defending a rag tag group of activists who were trespassing on Massey mine sites. We have since added a few additional lawyers to out team, including Robert Bastress, a well respected professor of law at the University of West Virginia and a few law students from UWV.
I’ll state flat out that our lawyers are better than any of Massey’s high paid legal thugs. Both Roger and Tom understand the campaign, the risks involved and most importantly the need for us to succeed for the sake of West Virginia and indeed the planet. They know that if mountain top removal cannot be stopped in Appalachia, there is little hope that we can do anything to address climate change. After all, it’s the same smarmy coal state politicians who are holding up any reform to protect the coal industry’s bottom line at the expense of destroying the Earth’s atmosphere. Our lawyers are committed to the fight, and have helped us to get our people out of jail no matter what time of day or night.
But there are of course limits to what they can do. Since taking us on, their client list has grown exponentially as more and more people come to West Virginia to participate in the campaign. There resources are being stretched very thin, and we will need additional help in order to handle this mounting case load. We have received offers of help from around the country, but much of this support has come in the form of legal advice, which often is not helpful. Our lawyers know what needs to be done; they just need help in doing this. This includes doing research and writing briefs mostly, and so far no one has come forward to help us do the actual work that is necessary to prepare ourselves for the many trials that we expect to have in the coming months.
For the Climate Ground Zero campaign to succeed, we need to have a presence in the corrupt courts of West Virginia. We need to stand up to the Judges who refuse to apply the law when it comes not only to regulating the coal companies, but who trample on our civil right to peaceful protest. Non violent civil disobedience would not be necessary if the courts did their solemn duty to uphold the law. Here judges are elected, and they are afraid of Massey CEO and President Don Blankenship, who has a record of funding any opponents of his plans to level Appalachia. Chief Justice Brent Benjamin received over three million dollars from Blankenship to run against sitting Judge Darryl McGraw who ruled against Massey in a civil action by a rival coal company. Benjamin then over ruled McGraw’s lower court ruling, an act that was recently appealed to the US Supreme Court which then over ruled Benjamin on the grounds that he could not possibly be seen as objective. That case is heading back to court, and Benjamin was forced to recues himself.
Succeeding court will not be easy. And it will cost money. While our legal team works pro bono, we are facing mounting legal expenses. This week I had to write a check for $1,700.00 to pay for transcripts. We need help. We not only need funds to continue, even more importantly we need legal assistance. Not just advice, which is always appreciated, but research and help writing legal briefs. If you can help us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the climategroundzero.org website and make a donation.
Climate Ground Zero
PO Box 163
Rock Creek West Virginia 25174