NEWPORT – A motion hearing was held Thursday morning on the case of the journalist who was arrested while covering a protest on Lowell Mountain. Attorney Phil White representing Chris Braithwaite, Publisher of the Barton Chronicle, had filed a motion to dismiss.
Judge Robert Garety, Jr. asked both parties if either had come across a case with similar circumstances so that he could review what the other judge’s thoughts were on the matter in helping with his decision. Neither party had come across any similar cases.
Braithwaite was on private property that Green Mountain Power (GMP) is leasing to construct 21 industrial size wind turbines. Protesters of the project had gathered on the construction site as an act of civil disobedience. The protesters knew they could be arrested and chose not to leave when asked to do so. Braithwaite, who was covering the protester's activities, was also asked to leave by police who had responded to the scene.
Braithwaite moved away from the construction area and stood on a large stump to photograph the arrest and make sure it was handled properly, White told the court. But Braithwaite was still on what is considered GMP's property and he was arrested.
If he moved all the way off the property, he couldn’t have photographed the event, and his plan was to move immediately following the arrest of the protesters, White said.
White asserted the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment rights and Vermont Constitutional rights for his client. He said the press should be allowed to cover protests and the government’s response on private property. White noted that on many occasions law enforcement brings the press to places where it is going to make arrests, to allow reporters access. White argued that that the state shouldn’t prosecute Braithwaite as he was not a protesters and was doing a service for the public. He also noted the court has limited resources at this time to pursue such a case.
Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker said that GMP would drop the changes if the case was burdensome. She said it was not at this point. Baker argued that the press does not have any more privileges than anyone else. As an example, Baker said that if the police were responding to a domestic incident, the press would not have the right to go into the home to cover the event.
Safety was raised as an issue by the state, and the judge said that safety is a legitimate concern.
White noted that if safety of the people was the concern, why did work continue with the protesters on the property, none of whom had safety equipment on? GMP was aware that a journalist was covering the event and no one offered him safety equipment at that time, White stated.
Since Braithwaite’s arrest, GMP has invited Braithwaite to come back any time he wants, as long as he contacts them in advance, and they will provide him with the appropriate safety gear.
The judge asked for supplemental memorandums by February 10 from the defendants, to include information on any similar cases, and a response from the state by February 17.