A court case surrounding an arrest in Congress' halls that raised questions of protesters' and members' rights reached a standstill Tuesday when the jury failed to reach a verdict.
On April 21, District of Columbia activist Adam Eidinger was arrested after refusing to leave a House Oversight and Government Reform markup of a resolution to overturn a D.C. law . Protesters disrupted the markup and were escorted out. Eidinger, who was seated next to the protesters, was asked to leave and refused, and was subsequently carried out of the room and arrested and charged with unlawful entry. After more than 24 hours since they began deliberating, the jury reported that they were deadlocked Tuesday late afternoon, telling D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin that six jurors thought Eidinger was guilty, five thought he was innocent, and one was undecided. Morin subsequently declared a mistrial, meaning the government must decide if it wants to pursue a new trial or vacate the charge.
“This is turning into a long, drawn-out thing for me, but I want justice and I will keep coming back to court until I get it,” Eidinger, who was the architect of the District's 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, told Roll Call in an interview.
Eidinger said that after the hearing the lawyers were permitted to talk with the jurors, who said they needed more evidence to base their decision.
Eidinger said he is considering taking the stand if there is a new trial, and he will work harder to ensure the District's non-voting representative in Congress also testifies.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C, who sat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee dais that day, was open to testifying at the hearing. But she did not appear in court during the defense's arguments Monday. Eidnger's defense attorney, Mike Rothman, later told Roll Call the trial wrapped up earlier than expected, and she could not make it to court due to a scheduling conflict.
"I told her, 'I think we’ve won this … I don’t want to waste your time,'” Eidinger said, explaining the decision not to wait for her testimony.
Should the case move on to a new trial, Eidinger said he expects it would last much longer to give jurors more evidence. The trial would also likely include another appearance by outgoing Oversight and Government Reform Committee Staff Director Sean McLaughlin, who testified last Thursday, as one of two witnesses for the prosecution.
With McLaughlin's testimony, jurors were able to get a sense of the inner workings of a congressional committee. They considered whether McLaughlin had the authority to eject Eidinger from the room, as well as whether Eidinger honestly believed he had a right to remain in the markup.
From the perspective of the U.S. government, this D.C. Superior Court case centered on Eidinger not following McLaughlin's order, who was legally in charge of the committee room.
"Congress has a right to do its job, however bad a job it may seem at times, without disruption or protest," Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Rosen told the jury in his closing argument Monday. This case, he later added, "is about following the rules."
For the defense, the case raised questions about whether McLaughlin abused that power to eject Eidinger, and argued that Eidinger did not participate in the protest — and thus had the right to remain in the committee room.
"Where do you draw the line?" Rothman asked the jury. He argued Eidinger had a right to be in the markup, a public space where the committee was considering a matter affecting D.C.
The case brought leaders from the group DC Vote, which advocates for District autonomy, to the witness stand, including executive director Kimberly Perry and spokesman James Jones. Though McLaughlin agreed to testify, lawmakers, including committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., successfully fought subpoenas to testify .
"This is good for me," Eidinger said Tuesday night, noting that he was not convicted. "But going through another trial, it really hurts. It takes up time. I’m missing work. It costs the taxpayers money. It seems to be this has gone way too far already. I’m just standing up for my rights.”
A status hearing to determine the next steps in the case is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 1.
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