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'Crawford 5' Lawyer Aids Sheehan's Legal Defense
by Nathan Diebenow, Associate Editor
The Lone Star Iconoclast
CAMP CASEY — In addition to the emotional and physical support from people around the world, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier slain in Iraq who wants to visit President Bush in person, and her backers at Camp Casey have received legal support here in Texas.
One lawyer in particular is Jim Harrington, the Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a statewide community-based, non-profit civil rights foundation he founded in 1990 that promotes social, racial, and economic justice and civil liberty, through the legal system and public education, for low income and poor persons.
Harrington, a lawyer that has 31 years of experience under this belt, has sought redress in state and federal courts in order to protect individual rights and liberties. He has received numerous awards and honors for his public service and assistance to the poor. He is author of The Texas Bill of Rights: A Commentary and Litigation Manual, myriad law review articles, and various book reviews.
He also is an adjunct professor at University of Texas Law School and teaches undergraduate writing courses on civil liberties and famous American trials. He has also taught at St. Mary's University School of Law.
Harrington, a native of Lansing, Michigan, also has the distinction of being the lead counsel for "The Crawford 5," a group of five activists acquitted last year on charges of protesting in the City of Crawford without a permit.
As Sheehan's supporters were singing Janis Jopin's "Me and Bobby McGee" in the background, The Iconoclast's Nathan Diebenow spoke with Harrington Thursday at Camp Casey about Texas' right of way law, the more humorous details of the Crawford 5 trial, and the role of the U.S. Secret Service in buffering dissent around President Bush.
ICONOCLAST: What's been going on this morning, and what are the legal problems that are occurring here?
JIM HARRINGTON: Well, I think that things are pretty peaceful today. I think that the legal issues from our perspective are that somebody called the health department. They did a little health check and, of course, didn't find anything wrong. But that's the harassment sort of thing. People had to move all of their cars to the Peace House because they had parked in front of the historical marker.
Right here, I think we have a continuing question about the use of the road and access part of the right of way, that sort of thing, and how close you can actually get to the ranch.
ICONOCLAST: Those are the questions that are lingering.
HARRINGTON: Yeah, and maybe tomorrow or Saturday, they'll see if it's possible to get closer than everyone is today. But it's not to get arrested at this point. It's just to get an idea of where the parameters are because we're getting different viewpoints from how far people can actually get to the ranch.
ICONOCLAST: Why are the supporters not allowed to do anything in this triangular area?
HARRINGTON: It's private property according to the maps. There is an issue, of course, with the eight feet from the road that the public access or easement. I don't think anybody is pressing it to this point. Ironically, the sheriff's department is in sort of a bind because the law says if there is no easement that the people can be on, they have a right to be on the road, and the first responsibility of law enforcement is to the pedestrian. So I think they're sort of like, "Well, we'll just let issue sit the way that it is and not have to confront it because the alternative is that if there isn't the dedicated right of way, then people have the right to be in the street. That's the interesting twist.
ICONOCLAST: So there's no specific difference between this county and any other counties in Texas or in other parts of the nation with regards to the right of way laws?
HARRINGTON: No, there are differences for sure. In some jurisdictions, the land is automatically dedicated. Even though you might own it out to the middle of the road, a certain amount of it is already dedicated to the public, and then you have undisputed public use. It's like a sidewalk. In some jurisdictions, and this appears to be the case generally in Texas, the government has the right to take that easement, but the law doesn't take it automatically. It has to go through a process. From what I can tell that hasn't happened here yet. There hasn't been that formal process.
ICONOCLAST: Even in the 150-some-odd years that his county has existed, they haven't held that process, huh?
HARRINGTON: Yeah, because 145 of it, they haven't had a president living here. (laughs)
HARRINGTON: Crawford was sort of in oblivion until Bush showed up.
ICONOCLAST: And we have found that out in other court cases, right?
HARRINGTON: Yeah, yeah. I'm sure the people in Crawford have mixed reaction now about Bush living around them.
ICONOCLAST: Yeah, I think they've had that feeling for the last two years.
HARRINGTON: It might be a little too much, especially after they had to pay for the last lawsuit. (laughs) I was just telling somebody the other day about the jury in the case because they were out for like three hours. I was like, "Wow, maybe we'll actually win!" Actually, all they were trying to do was figure how high they were going to give the fines. (laughs)
HARRINGTON: Yeah. (laughs) You were at the trial, right?
HARRINGTON: You remember the guy who was dressed up in the buttons (all over his shirt)? He just happened to be walking through and (Crawford Police Chief Donnie) Tidmore said, "Well, it looks like we've got to arrest him." And he went over to Tidmore and asked, "Can you give me a ride to the Peace House?" (laughs)
HARRINGTON: Tidmore was like, "Yeah, I'll give you a ride." (laughs) The jury, obviously, knew he was innocent, and that's why he got a $200 fine instead of a $500 fine (which was the maximum fine for the charges). But that was pretty funny.
ICONOCLAST: Why hasn't law enforcement just bulldozed these people out of here?
HARRINGTON: I think that what's really been helpful in this whole thing has been the attention of the press --- obviously, Central Texas, national, and international --- because I think it serves to protect the people from crazy police activity. I wouldn't be surprised if something happened, but this is Crawford. This is McLennan County.
ICONOCLAST: What about when the president supposedly drives by and these people here being a "threat to national security" and a "danger to the president?" Is there any truth to that suggestion or is it just a scare tactic?
HARRINGTON: It's bullshit, but that doesn't necessarily stop the Secret Service. There's a whole pattern around the country where what happened in Crawford is replicated, and that is that the Secret Service is more concerned about getting rid of the protestors and not worrying about the legality and letting the municipalities deal with the legality later on. We saw this happen in Austin when he was there. Secret Service comes in and talks to the cops. Tell them what they like. Nothing in writing. Nothing real formal. Just a meeting. And they leave and the cops do what the Secret Service wants them to do, and then in reality, what they've done is put the protestors out of sight. We saw the happen during the Republican convention in New York --- the woman who was standing outside of Laura Bush's speech on a public sidewalk was arrested. Her son had been killed in Iraq. That kind of stuff.
Even though people have a perfectly legitimate right and if there was a security concern, the Secret Service can just walk around with a dog and walk around with detectors, but you just don't move the whole demonstration because you don't like it. That's not to say they won't do it, but that's what the law is.
ICONOCLAST: So the Secret Service would be acting on behalf of the policy makers inside the White House?
HARRINGTON: That's what's going on. I think that's very clear.
ICONOCLAST: Otherwise, like you said, they could treat the situation a whole lot differently. They could walk dogs around here or whatever.
HARRINGTON: That's right. That's the pattern we've seen since Bush has been in office, that the Secret Service has been doing political work. Yeah, I think that's pretty clear.
ICONOCLAST: So is there any issue of arrests here because of Bush driving around?
HARRINGTON: There should not be. There should not be. I mean, what risk does a few parents of some kids that have been killed pose? The risk that they pose is to the political image of the president, but not to his security. This is a very oppressive administration.