Bethania Palma was one of those arrested on Saturday for “re-occupying” the lawn at L.A. City Hall. She has since pleaded no contest, and been sentenced to 18 months' probation and seven days of Caltrans duty.
Palma, a former reporter at the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, wrote a piece for LAist in which she accused City Attorney Carmen Trutanich of “going for the jugular” with Occupy protesters.
She seems to have a point.
Palma appears to be a perfect candidate for the City Attorney's pre-filing “diversion” program.
The program allows first-time offenders the chance to avoid prosecution by taking a class.
Palma has no criminal record. She was arrested while peacefully protesting the National Defense Authorization Act. Her crime was being on the wrong side of a fence.
Yet Palma was not offered diversion. She was held in jail for two days on $5,000 bail, and then charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
“My guess is they wanted to punish me for doing what I did,” Palma said.
Palma said she pleaded no contest because she wanted to get out of jail. She will soon have to pick up trash on the freeway, and has been ordered to stay away from City Hall for a year and a half.
Frank Mateljan, the city attorney's spokesman, said he did not know why Palma was not offered diversion.
“The defendant certainly had an opportunity to have her day in court, but instead opted to enter a guilty plea to the charges,” Mateljan said. “We feel this case has come to a satisfactory conclusion and there is nothing more to comment on at this time.”
The diversion program is sort of like traffic school. The City Attorney's office has been offering it since 1995 to those accused of minor offenses such as lewd conduct, petty theft, and minor in possession of alcohol.
Participants must watch a 45-minute DVD that addresses “the harsh realities of incarceration” and “techniques for behavior control.” They must also complete a 50-page workbook and 25 multiple choice questions, according to Winter McDaniel, who runs the program for American Justice Associates. Total cost to the participant: $375.
For Occupy L.A. arrestees who are referred to the program, there's one extra hurdle that may make it more trouble than it's worth. They will be given a one-hour lecture on the First Amendment, which is being prepared by Trutanich's office especially for Occupy.
Consider that for a moment. The First Amendment, which secures the citizenry's right to redress its grievances with government, is here being used to redress the government's grievances with its citizens.
If that strikes you as perverse, then you're not alone. And it seems like the Occupy arrestees are not eager to be condescended to. Of those who have been referred for diversion, only a couple have inquired with AJA so far, McDaniel said.