Jessica M. Pasko
Santa Cruz Sentinel: 12/06/2012SANTA CRUZ — An advocate for the homeless convicted last month of illegal lodging won’t serve jail time, a Santa Cruz County judge ruled Thursday.
Linda Lemaster could have faced up to six months in County Jail for her conviction of one count of unlawful lodging, a misdemeanor. Judge Rebecca Connolly chose to sentence her to six months on a conditional sentence and ordered her to pay $590 in fines and fees, which she said could be paid through community service hours instead. A conditional sentence is essentially like probation except through the court rather than the county’s probation department.
Jurors found Lemaster had violated the law by staying outside the county courthouse on Aug. 10, 2010 along with people participating in the Peace Camp demonstration, which was aimed at protesting the city’s anti-camping ban. At trial, Lemaster testified that she hadn’t been sleeping outside that night and that she had no intention of doing so.
She and her attorneys maintained that she stayed at the courthouse that night to look after a demonstrator who was ill. Because of her chronic back problems, she said, she was at least partially lying down when deputies arrived and someone had placed a blanket over her.
Prosecutor Alex Byers on Thursday acknowledged Lemaster’s work on behalf of the homeless, but said “we’re not here today because of homeless problems.”
“It’s sad, anyone with a heart considers that,” Byers said, but added, “It’s about the law. Santa Cruz is a very tolerant place but that tolerance has limits.”
The tolerance doesn’t extend to situations where the right to demonstrate infringes upon the rights of others, he said, explaining that the three-month long demonstration brought health risks, property damage and limited access to the county offices for the public. It also cost taxpayers for cleanup and security costs, he said.
“You don’t get to break the law because you don’t agree with it,” the prosecutor said.
Under state law, a person “who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it,” can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.
Byers did not ask for jail time, instead proposing Connolly sentence Lemaster to 40 hours of community service and a three-year conditional sentence.
Lemaster told the court she thought her trial had focused too much on the entire Peace Camp 2010 demonstration rather than on her individual actions. She said that while she accepts the consequences of her actions, she believes the ultimate responsibility lies with the government, which has failed to take care of its people and presented the need for such demonstrations.
Lemaster’s supporters filled the courtroom for the Thursday afternoon sentencing hearing.
“The principles on which this case stood are clearly very important to the community,” defense attorney Jonathan Gettleman said.
Gettleman said the idea of community service as a sentence for Lemaster was “ironic” given that his client’s life revolves around providing services to the community and working for society’s most vulnerable.
Connolly acknowledged the real issues involved with homelessness, but said that Lemaster’s act of civil disobedience was her choice and it carries consequences.
“I do appreciate the efforts made … it served as a vehicle to challenge the constitutionality of the law,” she said.
Gettleman said he plans to appeal the conviction.
by Becky Johnson
Showing how capricious and arbitrary the District Attorney’s office has become, in May 2011, a different judge sentenced 2 men convicted of the same “lodging” charge with 400 hours community service. When they refused, the Judge threw them both into jail for 6 months on the spot.
by Roy McAlister
Hey Becky, here’s the politically incorrect reality you’re overlooking….
by Robert Norse · Top Commenter · 65 years old
Wild exaggerations about PC2010’s “damaging” activities were irrelevant and prejudicial, but apparently welcomed by Judge Connolly whose many biased decisions allowing prosecution material in after deadline, refusing to allow the defense to add the full context of Linda’s blog, and other errors will be addressed on appeal.
Meanwhile it was clear that the smear job the prosecution put on had nothing to do with Linda’s presence there but attempted to confuse the jury with the longer protest (which itself received no littering or vandalism citations, much less prosecutions).
The Sentinel writer might have noted that Linda testified under oath that she tried unsuccessfully to get clarity from the deputy who told her to leave whether she could still be there as a protester without “occupying” as presumably is guaranteed by the Constitution (and was allowed for others).
This trial was an ex post facto rubberstamping of deputy behavior in getting rid of a political protest without using a legitimate process or finding any real crime. Kind of familiar these days.