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Carmen Trutanich vs. Occupy L.A.: A Case of Jury Nullification

Occupiers lock arms at City Hall on Nov. 30
Occupiers lock arms at City Hall on Nov. 30
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Pool

The case against Steve Leaderman should have been easy to prove. Leaderman, 38, was one of the Occupy L.A. protesters who refused to leave City Hall Plaza after the LAPD ordered everyone to disperse on Nov. 30.

Leaderman, a veteran of political demonstrations, locked arms in a circle of protesters. He was ultimately carried out by police and charged with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.

But after a three-day trial last week, a jury of his peers found him not guilty.

How did that happen?


"He's actually sitting there. He's not making any attempt to leave," said Jason Marcus, Leaderman's public defender. "The only way you can look at the verdict is jury nullification."

Almost 300 people were arrested the night of the LAPD raid on the Occupy L.A. camp. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich filed misdemeanor charges on about 50 of them, mostly those who had prior criminal records. So far, most cases that have gone to a jury have resulted in convictions, with the defendants generally being sentenced to community service.

Leaderman's case is the only one -- at least so far -- that has resulted in an acquittal. (Another case was dismissed due to a hung jury.)

"These are bogus cases. They should let them go," Leaderman said in an interview this week. "I was on city property and voicing my grievances to officials, which is what that park is designed for."

Leaderman's trial was held downtown, and the jury pool drew in residents of liberal enclaves like Echo Park and Silver Lake. Marcus, the public defender, said he was surprised that the prosecutor, Diana Aizman, did not exclude more people from the jury, including a Silver Lake woman who said she was involved in roller derbies.

"She left some people who she should never have left on the jury," Marcus said. "The jury was great."

Aizman did not return a call seeking comment.

At trial, Marcus attempted to show that the protesters couldn't hear the dispersal order. Leaderman did not testify.

Leaderman, who spoke with the jurors after the verdict was read, believes they were turned off by the LAPD's "Hollywood showboating."

"They didn't need to come in with storm troopers and waste a bunch of money the way they did," Leaderman said. "The city wanted to crush the movement."


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