Lawyers donating their time to defend 'Add the Words' protesters

Lawyers donating their time to defend 'Add the Words' protesters

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by Stephanie Zepelin

Bio | Email | Follow: @ktvbstephanie

KTVB.COM

Posted on February 4, 2014 at 11:13 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 4 at 11:31 PM

BOISE -- More than 40 activists are facing charges Tuesday for a protest that occurred Monday at the Idaho Statehouse.

However, they will not face a judge alone, as a group of a dozen lawyers are offering their services, free of charge, to the "Add the Words" protesters.
   
"I've been supporting adding the words to the Human Rights Act since day one, eight years ago," said Boise attorney Dan Skinner.

Skinner is volunteering his time to defend several of those 44 protesters.

"I was approached by a client and asked about the upcoming event, and I became aware that it was going to go on, and so I actually contacted the organizers and offered my services to them," said Skinner.

He also rallied more than 10 other attorneys to help out pro-bono, and they will be splitting the nearly four dozen cases from Monday's protest.

"The reason I've taken these cases is because all of us are entitled to equal protection under the United States Constitution, and Idaho is basically denying these folks that equal protection," said Skinner. "I think that the gay and transgender community wakes up each day and they're in fear of losing their jobs, and they're in fear of losing their homes, and that is not what the United States Constitution says."

Skinner said he does not think taking these cases will affect his business, and that the partners at his firm "support the work he is doing."

Former Idaho Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor David Leroy is not among the group of lawyers defending those protesters, but offered legal expertise to KTVB on this story.

"This is a classic example of a peaceful and pacific protest, well-handled by both sides," said Leroy.

Although protest is within a person's rights, Leroy said it reached misdemeanor level when the protesters were asked to move and refused to do so.

"In the case of these protesters, planning for legal counsel in advance, it simply shows that they were well-advised, well-organized, and knew the ultimate consequences of a trespassing act," said Leroy. "These protesters are entitled to attempt to use all lawful means to influence their legislators; they're also entitled to use unlawful means, like trespassing, if they wish to bear the consequences."

As far as the "Add the Words" cause, protesters including former state senator Nicole LeFavour said this would not be their last demonstration.

"The underlying issue of 'Adding the Words' is one that has been debated, was certainly focused by this protest, and I believe, will continue to be debated," Leroy said. "Exactly how that plays out over time is yet to be determined, but these protests have certainly focused the issue and moved it now to another arena: the courts."

Trespass in Idaho is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine, six months in county jail, or both. Leroy said all of the protesters are theoretically subject to those maximum penalties. If all 44 of the protesters plead not guilty, then the county could see 44 trials. However, Leroy says, that would be the extreme case. Each person's case would probably be handled differently.

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