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Federal Trial for petitioning Senator Clinton for Reform

This page contains summary info on the prosecution of John Murtari in Federal Court for the Northern District of New York, Syracuse, New York.  The first trial was held on Tuesday, October 29th, 2002,  Hanley Federal Building.  The next trial is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 7th. For background on why the trial  occurred and what is happening now as events continue, check here.  The info below represents excerpts.

Most current information will be at the top.  Two earlier series of incidents are also summarized below.  Last updated: 06/11/08 

11/7/03 - John Murtari will go on trial at 10 am on Friday, Nov. 7th, at the US Court House for the Northern District of New York, Hanley Federal Building, Syracuse. He has been appointed counsel. You are welcome to attend.  The US Attorneys office filed the following complaint (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). 

10/15/03 - John receives a copy of a letter from the Federal Public Defender's office to Magistrate DiBianco. They appear to decline the assignment (Page 1, Page 2) for reasons related to when John had earlier asked his counsel be removed for cause (see 1/21/03, below).   John wrote a reply letter.

9/22/03 - John's attorney files an appeal to the Second Circuit.

8/25/03 - John receives a copy of a letter from the US Attorney's office to Magistrate DiBianco.  It is the first notification he has received that his appeal was denied by local US District Judge Mordue. (Page 1, Page 2)

I was a little surprised by the decision and also that I had not heard anything from my assigned counsel, Mr. Schlanger, who had been assigned to complete the appeal process.  I wrote him regarding the status of the appeal and got a reply a few days later.

7/31/03 - In an attempt to reach a "compromise" John submits a motion (Motion & Affidavit) to the Federal Magistrate and also includes a letter which attempts to explain what is happening and why.

4/14/03 - The US Magistrate Judge who has been presiding over the Federal prosecution of John for his activites issues a couple of orders in response to motion's filed below.  Read the decisions (Decision 1, page 1, page 2 , page 3; Decision 2, page 1, page 2, page 3)  In summary he stays final decisions until US District Judge Mordue issues a decision on the pending appeal of his earlier trial.   

1/22/03 -  There was an appearance in Federal Court over John's request to have a new attorney assigned and time to file motions prior to a Contempt hearing.   The Judge removed his present attorney, but did not assign other counsel.  The date for the Contempt hearing was adjourned without date and motions must be submitted by February 12th. Action on the pending charges is awaiting detailed complaints from the US Attorney's office.

1/19/03 - A hearing on the Contempt is scheduled for Jan 28th.  As always we would like to get more people involved in the effort.  

1/15/03 - John has a couple of appearances this week in front of Federal Magistrate DiBiano.  The most important of which is regarding potentially being held in contempt for violating the Judges order regarding conduct in the Hanley Federal Building.  Below is a summary of documents (you can click on the link to see the actual document).  :

  • DRAFT of  Federal Appeal (We hope you will find in an excellent summary of what went wrong in Court.  The first level of appeal is to a US District Court Judge.  The next level of appeal, if necessary, would be the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Judges order regarding "no protesting" (page 1, page 2).
  • John's letter asking for a "stay."  (Returned with no action, should have been from attorney. Will try again.)
  • Request by US Attorney to have John held in contempt (page 1, page 2, page 3).
  • Order to Show Cause issued by Judge (page1, page 2).

12/16/02 - John gets a copy of a stay away order from the Judge. You can read page1 and page 2.  You can read some of John's earlier comments on the trial results here.   He hopes his attorney will be able to do "something" before December 30th, but there may not be time.  His plans are still the same.

"Unfortunately many of the "facts" are not true at all and based on things that just didn't happen.  As I read the "order" and the "facts" I couldn't help but think of similar things I have read in Family Court -- where the "facts" are driven by the desired outcome the Judge has in mind.  Even in a US Courthouse, and a standard of proof, "beyond a reasonable doubt", it still happens. It affirmed for my why the presence of a Jury is so crucial."

11/27/02 - The Judge issues his decision in the case.  Guilty on counts 3 & 4. An appeal has been noticed and will first be heard by a local District Judge.  It is schedule to be heard in mid January.

11/22/02 - John was sentenced to 10 days in jail by US Magistrate Judge DiBianco in the Syracuse Courthouse for the Northern District of New York.  On his release John plans on resuming the effort on December 30th.

10/31/02 - John's attorney submits a pre-sentencing letter to the Court.

10/29/02 Federal Trial Results - guilty & NOT guilty as charged - Today, in US District Court, Magistrate Judge Gustav DiBianco found John Murtari both guilty and NOT guilty as charged in the government's 4 count complaint. If you find this confusing, so was the trial. At the conclusion attorneys for both sides were trying to understand what the ruling meant. [We should have a transcript of the ruling in a few days at the web site. If you wish to read the original complaint and activity leading up to this trial, please see below.  A News Release was sent out to local media.

In a case where it first seemed the Judge was ready to find John guilty on all counts -- John's Public Defender, Ms. Lisa Peebles, put up a very strong fight during the trial and moved for dismissal of ALL charges after the prosecution had completed it's case -- the grounds, they had not shown any "obstruction" of the building that would have violated the rules. The Judge reserved decision and directed the defense to present its case, but in the end, after a powerful closing argument, it was obvious the Judge could not sustain all the claims made by the US Attorney's office.

However, on the last two counts of the complaint, which involved a "group" of people blocking the halls and not obeying an order to leave -- he found John guilty. This was very confusing since the three other group members who had accompanied John on July 29th, were just there to visit Senator Clinton's office and had no intention of walking in the hallways with John. BUT -- as they walked by John in the halls (he was already under arrest), that created the "crowd" that needed to be dispersed.

An appeal is planned both on the facts and Constitutional grounds, but the win on the first two counts appears to indicate as an individual, he did nothing wrong. The US Attorney's office had hoped a conviction would make it clear John's conduct was not allowed in the building, this mixed decision may have served to only increase confusion and partially support his position.

Judge DiBianco asked both sides for letters regarding sentencing. John will again appear in Court on November 22nd for his sentence and the Judge made it clear incarceration was quite possible and his future conduct might influence the sentence to be imposed.

John plans on returning to the building next Monday, Nov 4th, at 1pm. More details as we can get them posted at the site, http://www.AKidsRight.Org/actionc_syr, Your participation is welcome!

We should all note -- other than Mary Jo Marceau-Hawthorne (our PR person and also a witness at the trial), there were no other parents in attendance. John was very, very relieved at the outcome -- he had been prepared to begin a jail sentence today.


10/17/02 - Another front page story appears in the Baldwinsville Messenger, covering a major suburb of the city of Syracuse.  It does a nice job of explaining our groups goals.  (NOTE: the story says John is a "fighter pilot", that is not the case, he was an Air Force Instructor Pilot.)

Ms. Lisa Peebles, John's Federal Public defender, files a motion to have the charges dismissed on constitutional grounds.

10/14/02 - A front page story appears in the Times of Wayne County, another regional paper.  The writer does an excellent job of covering the group and it's methods.

10/10/02 - In a related matter John appears in City Court regarding his attorney's motion to dismiss 7 pending trespass charges.  Judge Young dismisses 5, he does not dismiss the first one (for July 29th), and wants to hear another motion on the last charge (which occurred to late to be included). Another motion date of November 7th is set, at that time a trial date will be set for the remaining charge.

"Not related to City Court, I got a call from my Federal attorney that the prosecutor was willing to arrange a meeting with some Senior Clinton aids regarding our issues, but it would require I plead guilty to at least one count.   This was easy to reject, neither condition would have been acceptable.When this started the goal was a meeting for parents with Senator Clinton. That is still a good and achievable goal."

10/09/02 -  Everyone appears in Federal Court at 2PM.  The prosecutor delivers a revised complaint (page one, page two, page three).  The primary difference is the word "loitering" added to one of the counts.  John's attorney will submit a motion to have the charges dismissed by Oct 17th, and a government response will be made by the 24th.  The trial is scheduled to start at 2PM on October 30 and may continue into a second day.

A story is printed in the Finger Lake Times, a regional paper near John's hometown.

"There was one complex point regarding the delay for trial. The prosecutor wanted me to stop my conduct completely pending the trial.  I would not agree to that.  My attorney also asked me if I could delay a bit to give her more time to prepare.   I already knew that I would not be returning to the building for the next few weeks.   I have plane tickets to see Domenic out west for the weekend of Oct 17th -- and I knew I wouldn't be doing anything the week I returned.  So I agreed to wait until Oct 31st.   I wanted to avoid any suspension based on trial resolution since these things can go on for quite a while.  I also remembered some Civil Rights history from segregation where leaders struggled on whether to call a halt to an action because of a Court Order -- in hindsight, they regretted ever pausing."

10/08/02 - A new's release is sent out to local media and follow up phone call contact is made.  John had interviews with three different regional papers and stories should run in the next week.

10/04/02 -  After a phone conference the trial start date is delayed and motions will be heard on October 9th instead.  The time will be 2pm.  You are  welcome to attend.

10/03/02 - A day earlier John learns that US Magistrate Judge DiBianco has assigned him counsel from the Federal Public Defenders office in Syracuse.  He meets with his assigned counsel, Attorney Lisa Peebles, and also a research assistant, Attorney Melissa Tuohey.    They give John the 3 page complaint filed by the US Attorney with 4 charges, primarily obstructing access to the building (page one, page two, page three).  They listen carefully to the events and are ready to mount an active defense.   Ms. Peebles will be asking for a delay in the Trial date and an opportunity to present motions.    They do initiate subpoenas for witnesses using the same list sent earlier to the Judge.

9/30/02 -  John sent a letter to US Magistrate Judge DiBianco with his request to subpoena witnesses to testify at his trial on October 9th.  He returned to the Federal Building at 1 PM and was arrested by Syracuse City police for trespass.  The Federal Police also wrote another ticket for violation of building rules, ticket here.  He should be arraigned tomorrow.

9/18/02 -  John appears in front of Federal Magistrate DiBianco for the Northern District of New York. Asst. US Attorney Southwick explains the government's desire to prosecute the case.  The charge is violating building rules.  A trial date of Oct 9th at 2pm is scheduled (no jury due to the minor nature of the offense).  John ask for assignment of counsel to represent him, completes a financial statement, and expects a decision in the next few days.

This appearance (arraignment) lasted over 30 minutes.  Mr. Southwick went to some length to explain the history of the case and the government's desire to now prosecute.  I asked the Judge for Counsel. He said he was not sure if I would qualify, but to complete a financial statement for his review and to expect an answer within a week.  It was a bit unclear exactly what the charges were against me and Mr. Southwick said his office would prepare a standard detailed complaint and send it to me.  I did get a copy of an arrest form and also a narrative report filled out by the officer.

The Judge then wanted to set a trial data, I asked for at least a month to get ready.  The Judge said he would only grant that if I would agree to stop my activity in the building.   I told him I could not do that and a trial date of Oct 9th was set.   The Judge told both sides to exchange witness lists by October 2nd.

7/29/02 - John Murtari, Mary Jo Marceau-Hawthorne (Macedon, NY), Chris Ranney (Binghamton, NY), and Rich Eichinger (Ft. Wayne Indiana) entered the Federal Building at app 2 PM and went to Senator Clinton's offices on the 14th floor.   Mary Jo, Chris, & Rich presented some letters and had a brief conversation with Kathy Calhoun, the Senator's Regional Representative.   John remained in the hallway carrying a card of pictures as he has done in the past.

He was arrested by Federal Police officers for failing to obey building signs regarding "demonstrations" (see ticket here), and when he expressed a desire to return to the 14th floor after being "ticketed" the Syracuse City Police were called and he was charged by them with Trespass (a "violation") and brought to the Justice Center.  A news release was sent out describing the event.

The following series occurred in Winter/Spring 2002.  It resulted in all charges being dismissed. Click here for complete day-by-day details. 

3/20/02 - The pending charges against John Murtari for Disorderly Conduct and Failure to Obey a Federal Officer were dismissed today. John appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Peoples in the Syracuse Courthouse for the Northern District of New York. (The matter was originally to be heard by a Magistrate, but none were available at the time.)

Assistant US Attorney Southwick told the Judge that his office was going to move to have the charges dismissed -- but that he wanted to make some comments "for the record" first. Mr. Southwick then explained that he had done hours of investigation and research on the matter. He described John's actions as a "protest", that he was attempting to influence two US Senators in the building to support some legislation.

He also made it very clear that John's actions were very peaceful, quiet, and nonthreatening. He had spoken with the Federal Officers involved in the arrests and had also talked with GSA and Department of Justice staff in Washington. He acknowledged that there were some clear "first amendment issues" involved, but that there was a permit process and that "protests" were allowed outside the building. He had been directed by Acting US Attorney Pavone to ask for dismissal of the charges, but also said he thought the Government might have been able to succeed in a prosecution. He wanted John to know their might be prosecution in the future if the conduct was repeated ...

The Judge appeared to follow his presentation with some interest, but before dismissing the charges asked again about the "Failure to Obey" charge and whether there had been any physical confrontation... Mr. Southwick said there was no type of violence at all, that John had cooperated with the Police Officers, but had simply refused, when ordered, to leave the building. The Judge dismissed the charges.

2/1/02 - John received two "Notices to Appear" in front of a Federal Magistrate regarding the incident January 8th.  He was accused of "Disorderly Conduct" and "Failure to Obey Officer." (Copy here) He is to appear on February 20th at 0930 AM at the Federal Courthouse in Syracuse.

1/8/02 - John was involved in a rather complicated arrest today, Jan. 8th at the Federal Building.  Two Federal Police officers watched him quietly carry his sign with children's pictures and then arrested him for loitering and causing a disturbance.  These were Federal charges. The City Police were then called and after approximately one hour of discussion, they arrested John for disorderly conduct for refusing to leave the building

Fall 2001 - The group returns to the Federal Building to continue the effort.  John is allowed to walk on some days, stopped on others, with no real pattern. 

The following series occurred in Spring/Summer 2000.  John was able to talk in the building for extended periods. It resulted in all charges being dismissed. Click here for complete day-by-day details. 

6/21/2000 - John appears at the U.S. Courthouse.   Things are not very busy, the magistrate is not even present in the Courtroom.   An assistant US Attorney, Mr. Michael Olmstead sits down with John to discuss resolution.  John explains to him that all the local charges were dismissed. That he plans on returning to the building in September to "exercise his right of free speech" and to also "petition his congressional representatives" by continuing his peaceful walk.

The US Attorney acknowledges the right to peaceful petition, comments on the fact that a Trial might be hard to win and withstand appeal.  They agree that his efforts may continue and that all Federal charges will be dismissed.

6/15/2000 - John received 6 Federal Appearance Tickets in the mail. These were all issued in December regarding his activity at the Federal Building (before he was finally allowed to do it). He is charged with: "unwarranted loitering", "unauthorized loitering"(3), "prohibited protesting", and "failure to comply with officer." View one of the tickets.   He will not pay the fine and hopes that in light of what happened at the local level the charges will also be dismissed.  His Court Date for arraignment is June 21, at 9:30. U.S. Courthouse for the Northern District of New York.

Mar - Apr 2000 - On March 2nd, John returned to the building and was allowed to walk for two hours with no trouble from building staff. For a period of over a month, John returns to the building every day and walks for two hours outside the offices of various members of Congress (see schedule here).   During this times some meetings are arranged with the staff's of Congressman Walsh and Senator Schumer.

Jan - Feb 2000 - John Murtari makes repeated returns to the Syracuse Federal Building in an attempt to petition his members of Congress for reform by quietly carrying a picture of children outside their offices.  There are a series of arrests with both State and Federal charges made.   All the State and Federal charges are dismissed.