BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Several court cases stemming from a coordinated pipeline protest in four states have been delayed, including one where an appeals court is deciding whether to allow two women to argue their law-breaking was necessary to prevent a greater harm.
Eleven activists with the group Climate Direct Action were arrested on Oct. 11, 2016, when they tried to either shut down pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Washington state or film the attempts. The activists said they were protesting fossil fuels and supporting people demonstrating against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which was still under construction.
The activists broke into private property and turned shutoff valves at five pipelines that moved oil from Canada to the U.S.
In Minnesota, prosecutors have asked a state appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling that would allow two women to use the so-called necessity defense. The defense is popular among environmental activists who argue that global warming caused by fossil fuels is the greater harm, though legal experts say it’s a long-shot defense.
The appeal delayed the December trial of Seattle-area residents Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein, who are accused of closing valves on two pipelines in northwestern Minnesota. The trial hasn’t been rescheduled, and their attorney said he doesn’t expect a resolution on the appeal until spring.
Sentencing has been delayed for two men who were barred from using necessity-defense arguments. Leonard Higgins of Portland, Oregon, was convicted in November of criminal mischief and trespassing in Montana; his January sentencing was pushed to March 20 after his attorneys asked for more time, according to court documents. Seattle resident Michael Foster also was set for sentencing this month in North Dakota but the hearing was moved to February because of a timing conflict.
A Washington state case was resolved last year when Ken Ward, of Corbett, Oregon, was convicted of burglary and sentenced to two days in jail plus community supervision and community service. He, too, wasn’t allowed to use the necessity defense.
The six other arrested activists were accused of filming the vandalism. Prosecutors dropped charges against two of them in Washington. Trials are pending for two others in Minnesota and one in Montana, and one activist is to be sentenced in North Dakota the same day as Foster.
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