Pressure On Trinity Church To Call Off Occupy Wall Street Trespassing Charges

OWSJackBoyle.jpg
Jack Boyle is on a hunger strike and HIV-medication strike over Trinity Church's support of charges against Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Trinity Church, a massive New York landowner with an estimated $1 billion in real estate holdings, is once again at odds with Occupy Wall Street, the movement that sprung up in its back yard.

The relationship between Trinity and Occupy has been fraught almost from the start, but tensions escalated last winter, after the NYPD evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, when protesters asked the church for sanctuary in an unused church-owned plot in Duarte Square.

The church refused, and on December 17, the protesters, led by clergy including retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, jumped the chain-link fence anyway, prompting dozens of arrests.

Many of those arrested that day are scheduled for trial next Monday, June 11, charged either with violation-level trespass or with criminal trespass in the third degree, a charge which can carry three months of jail time.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office, which so far has had little success in prosecuting the thousands of Occupy Wall Street arrests made by police in the last eight months, appears to be focusing its energies on securing convictions in the December 17 arrests. Defense attorneys say that prosecutors appear to be giving the December 17 cases special attention. They have rescinded offers of ACDs, Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal, made to some of the defendants earlier, and are preparing for trial.

Facing the possibility of a 90-day stint at Rikers, Occupiers are once more asking the church to cut them some slack.

Trinity has responded to emails on the subject with the following statement:

Trinity does not have the legal ability to drop charges. Those cases are being prosecuted by the District Attorney's office. However, Trinity has contacted the District Attorney's office and has been advised that the District Attorney has offered non-criminal dispositions without fines or incarceration to all those defendants who were arrested and charged with trespassing for simply being present at Duarte Square."

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Outside Trinity Church at yesterday's demonstration.
Gideon Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild says this statement is misleading on several counts. For one thing, while many of those arrested were offered and have declined Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal, not all of them have. For another, its disingenuous for Trinity to claim it has no control over the outcome in these cases. Sure, the District Attorney is in charge of the prosecution, but without the testimony of the church's lawyer, Amy Jedlicka, prosecutors would have no case.

Protesters launched a picket outside yesterday's service, carrying signs that read "Forgive us our trespasses," "Who would Jesus Prosecute?" and "Trinity Wall Street: Real Estate Company or Church?"

Also on hand was Jack Boyle, a 56-year-old New Yorker on the 11th day of a hunger strike and the 15th day of his HIV-medication strike. "I'm going to keep this going until the church stops trying to send us to jail," Boyle said.

Some in the movement have quietly questioned the wisdom of deploying such a dramatic and dangerous tactic over what ultimately amounts to a third-degree issue for Occupy: dropping charges stemming from an effort to secure space in which to organize against corporate control and economic inequality. But Boyle and his supporters counter that yesterday's demonstration was less about getting protesters off the hook for the consequences of their civil disobedience, and more about exposing the hypocrisy of a church that bears more than a passing resemblance to its corporate neighbors in the Financial District.

When a list of the church's vestry leaked last winter, it included executives of Brookfield Properties, AIG, Citigroup, and BNP Paribas. That roster was shaken up this past March, however, when 10 of the 22 vestry members quit. The walkout was only the latest round of turmoil under the leadership of Trinity's rector James Cooper.

Press accounts make Cooper sound like the modern Episcopal version of a Borgia pope. He received compensation of $1.3 million in 2010, awarded himself the supplementary title of CEO, and picked out a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse for himself, paid for by the church. And his Scroogely actions extend well beyond stiff-arming Occupy Wall Street: he shuttered Trinity's homeless drop-in center in 2009, then announced plans to borrow church money to build luxury condos on top of a palatial renovation of the church's offices.

Cooper's excesses were too much even for some of his high-flying vestry, and they asked him to resign. When he refused, many quit. They've since been replaced by members more aligned with Cooper's way of doing things.

That doesn't bode well for protesters' hopes the church will ask the District Attorney to call off the prosecutions.

"This situation exemplifies how, in a system built on profit, everything ties back to the greed of Wall Street, even Trinity Church" said Brett Goldberg, one of the organizers of yesterday's protest. "We have people who might go to Rikers for standing somewhere for a few minutes. Trinity could make that stop. We hope they do."

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20 comments
Nanabets1
Nanabets1

Trinity Church is beginning to seem like the churches in Virginia who separated themselves from the Church due to their fear of Gay People joining them.  It seem to me the church is beginning to listen to the Right-Wing of the United States.  Shame!!! Shame!!!    Elizabeth Stewart. Dover, Delaware

Greg
Greg

I support the 99%, but that doesn't give them license to set up camp wherever they like. Battles like this will only make OWS look like a bunch of entitled brats to the mainstream and the "silent majority" and backfire on them. They should choose more constructive and civil forms of protest.

Greg
Greg

That may be true of some churches, and those churches unfortunately get a lot of press, but the vast majority of churches are not like that at all. Please don't lump all churches in with the Pat Robertson, the USCCB, and other ideologues. Most churches are small and just want to focus on their flocks.

NORW
NORW

This church is clearly more interested in making money (see Coopers Salary) and serving the needs of its wealthy clients than it is in doing God's work.   How can a church leader make $1.3 million?   this isn't a church, it is a corporation which receives a free pass on taxes.  It is a sham and should be shut down or properly taxed.

NORW
NORW

Churches seem to spend more time and money practicing politics these days than helping the poor.

Jerry yanoff
Jerry yanoff

Jewish people welcome strangers into their homes.  WWJD?

Maureen Ettinger
Maureen Ettinger

Isn't a church supposed to serve everyone in need of aid?

Bill Waltz
Bill Waltz

The first comment these days is always what if there is an accident?  What about liability?  The argument is an old one: "what is of more value and where does the church stand -  People or Property."  It was true in the 60's and every decade since.  Father James Cooper - shame on you.  Father Bill Waltz, Vicar Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, Gunnison CO  

Alex
Alex

Why are protestors declining ACD's?

Mark
Mark

You seem like an active person and give all the latest updatesof the business. I started to read your blog from last 5 months and you havegiven such a latest updates of the economic world and latest news surroundingus. 

sears

Sean McAlpin
Sean McAlpin

hey anonymous Trinity Church-Corporation would be a great target in solidarity with OWS!!!

Staten Island Bob
Staten Island Bob

Instead of arresting peaceful protesters the law enforcement authorities should be concentrating their efforts on arresting the Wall Street criminals who stole our economy. Where are the prosecutions? Neither Republicans, nor Democrats, nor district attorneys, nor the SEC, nor the FBI, seem concerned about the felonious grand larceny that happened five years ago, and continues to happen every day. Pepper-spraying the messenger, OWS, does not circumvent the message. Our corporations are full of white collar criminals who pay off the system with campaign contributions, and are allowed to go scot-free. OWS, (and the people of Wisconsin), have set an example for all of us. We can't just sit by and watch the theft, and we certainly can't let the Scott Walkers of the world win.

CyberRabid
CyberRabid

 Trinity Church cannot allow OWS Occupation without taking on responsibilty for the actions of the Occupiers. It's kind of like a slip-n-fall at a department store, if something happens on their property they could be held responsible.

The Occupy Movement has consistently shown a disregard for the rights of property/business owners; this will be their downfall.  

HarrietNYC
HarrietNYC

As an attorney who has practiced premises liability law for more than 16 years I can tell you that that's factually incorrect, it is simply not true that Trinity could face liability for everything that happens on the lot, it's is just a sorry, old and incorrect excuse used by landowners. Further Trinity is nominally a church first, a real estate holding company second, it's their stated moral duty to provide support for those who are working for a better world, Trinity says  it stands with OWS but when it's time to provide anything beyond lip service, they didn't. people before profit.

CyberRabid
CyberRabid

And when something does happen therte is little doubt that you'll be the first ambulance chaser on the seen.

With all of the violence and alleged police abuse that takes place at these protests it's a potential goldmine for 'accomplished' attorneys like yourself.......

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