NEWPORT – A Vermont judge has rejected arguments of a lawyer for protesters arrested at the Lowell Mountain wind power project and will let stand unlawful-trespass charges against the project foes.
Defense attorney Kristina Michelson, representing five of the six people arrested on the mountain in December, had argued that the state is abusing the criminal process to try to resolve a property-line dispute between the project’s developers, Green Mountain Power Corp., and neighbors Don and Shirley Nelson.
But Judge Robert Gerety Jr., who’s been hearing the criminal case at Vermont Superior Court in Newport, ruled that it did not appear to him that prosecutors were using the criminal proceedings to try to gain an unfair advantage in the civil property dispute.
In orders issued July 6 and 9, according to the Caledonian-Record of St. Johnsbury, the judge said he would not allow evidence in the civil dispute into the criminal case.
He said he doubted the outcome of the criminal case would affect the civil dispute, or vice versa.
“It is not likely that the outcome of this case will settle the civil dispute between Nelson and GMP,” the judge wrote. “Also, it appears to the Court that the prosecution may well be motivated by a desire to avert a breach of the peace and to protect public safety at a construction site.”
The protesters maintain they were on land owned by the Nelsons, who are project opponents and had given them permission to be there. The state maintains a survey shows the land where the protesters were is owned by someone else, and that GMP had the legal authority to have them removed.
A sixth person arrested, Chris Braithwaite, publisher of The Chronicle newspaper in Barton, is being tried separately. He is using press-freedom arguments to fight the case against him.
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