Attorney asks for Reading court intervention
READING--Attorney Raymond Schlather is requesting an intervention by the Office of Court Administration to investigate the decisions and actions of the Reading town court. This action follows a Wednesday, Jan. 7 court session, where some 60 people were denied access to the Reading town court due to occupancy limits and kept outside the building in cold temperatures at night. Schlather, an Ithaca attorney representing Christopher Tate, contends the courtroom was filled to capacity during the arraignment of 24 defendants, the people who could not fit in the courtroom were locked out of the building entirely.
"It should not be necessary to remind the Reading 'Town Fathers' and the Reading town court that the Sixth Amendment guarantees every defendant at public trial," said Schlather in a letter to the Office of Court Administration dated Thursday, Jan. 8. "Section Four of the Judiciary law provides that 'the sittings of every court within this state shall be public, and every citizen may freely attend the same.' Under the circumstances, I respectfully ask the Office of Court Administration to investigate this matter and ensure this problem is not repeated."
Schlather said the courtroom occupancy limit could only hold 49 people, but he also added there was space within the building that could have held additional people, instead of keeping them barred outside the building in four degree weather.
"Understandably, every facility has its limitations," Schlather said in his letter. "But, in these circumstances, it would have been sufficient for the court simply to have opened the double doors [to the courtroom] and to have allowed the overflow public to access the court by standing in the large vestibule and adjacent corridor areas. As a practicing attorney of 37 years, an officer of the court and a citizen, I was embarrassed and ashamed."
The crowd outside had gathered both in support of the defendants as well as to oppose the town's closing of the courthouse building to the public during arraignments and sentencings Dec. 17, 2014. While some were allowed to witness the arraignments Wednesday, others were still denied access to the building once the courtroom reached its capacity. Following an attempt by some members of the crowd to wait inside of the building for access to the courtroom, they were ordered out of the building and the doors were locked, only permitting entrance for when a seat opened up in court. Among those who spoke to the group gathered outside was former congressional candidate Martha Robertson.
"It is vital that the public ask, 'What is Justice [Raymond] Berry afraid of?'" Robertson said. "It is time for the public to see what is happening here and for the public to be allowed in without reservation."
Sandra Steingraber also spoke to the crowd outside, saying she was told those without business in the courthouse were not going to be let in. She said it seemed the courthouse policy was specifically targeting "We Are Seneca Lake" as a group, claiming it a "violation of civil liberties."
Berry also announced Wednesday that due to the volume of cases, some of the defendants being tried for trespass may be sent to different courts. The defendants are being arraigned for their blockading of Crestwood's compressor station along Route 14. There were 10 more trespass arrests Friday, Jan. 9, putting the total number of people arrested at the site at 180 since October, 2014.
Judge Berry was called for a comment and did not return the call by press time.