Justice dismisses trespassing charge
WATKINS GLEN--Trespass charges against Hector resident Kristina Hansen were dismissed Thursday, April 7, following her arrest at a Watkins Glen school board meeting. Watkins Glen Village Justice Connie Fern Miller dismissed the charges, with Defense Attorney Ray Schlather claiming there were insufficient circumstances for filing. As a result, Hansen is now planning lawsuits against both the Watkins Glen Central School District as well as the Watkins Glen Village Police.
Hansen was arrested Monday, March 21, prior to the start of the regular board meeting. As she approached the building, Superintendent Tom Phillips met her outside the school building and told her to leave. When she refused, Hansen was arrested by Watkins Glen village police and charged with trespassing.
The arrest followed an earlier attempt by Hansen to attend a closed staff meeting prior to her arrest. Phillips then required Hansen to gain prior written approval from him before visiting the school district. Phillips said Hansen did not seek written approval prior to attending the school board meeting, while Hansen said she did not need to under the state's open meetings law. Phillips clarified this is not a ban from campus, but is merely a process that Hansen refused to follow.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, agreed, saying nobody should be precluded from attending an open meeting. Phillips disagreed, saying the district's legal counsel "absolutely disputes that." He said the district has done nothing without the advice of counsel, adding he does not know if Freeman had all the facts when he made his comments.
"When the big picture is revealed, sometimes it is not what was being portrayed," Phillips said.
Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsche was the special prosecutor in this case due to a conflict of interest with Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazarry. Schlather claimed Porsche could still refile charges if proper allegations are found.
"We intend to commence legal actions against the school board as a result of this arrest," Schlather said, adding he intends to serve notice this week or the week after. There will also be a claim against the Watkins Glen Police Department for an illegal arrest. Schlather stated if Hansen is arrested at another school board meeting, it will be another illegal arrest. He claimed a person cannot be charged with trespass when on grounds open to the public, especially when invited to an open meeting of the school board.
"My job is to maintain order and security of the school district, and that's what I will do," Phillips said.
Phillips claimed the reason the charges were dismissed was due to an insufficient instrument for the charge, noting it has nothing to do with the school, or the school's authority.
"It's a process issue, not an issue of what happened," Phillips said.