Metro Weekly

Don't Wait, Don't Stop

The six Get Equal activists arrested in front of the White House appeared in court Wednesday and were released, with Choi and Pietrangelo to face trial on July 14

”I remember these two gentlemen,” D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Richard Ringell said. ”Mr Choi, he saluted me. It’s the only time I’ve been saluted.”

Lt. Dan Choi and James Pietrangelo II, who appeared before Ringell on March 19 on a charge of failure to obey a lawful order, appeared again before the judge Wednesday, April 21, on similar charges from their arrest when they and four others handcuffed themselves to the fence in front of the White House on Tuesday. The actions, coordinated by Get Equal, were in protest of what they consider insufficient action from President Barack Obama to repeal ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Along with Autumn Sandeen and Larry Whitt, who served in the Navy; Mara Boyd, who served in the Air Force ROTC; and Evelyn Thomas, who served in the Marine Corps, the six – Choi serves in the New York National Guard and served in the Army, while Pietrangelo served in the Army – were arraigned this afternoon for Tuesday’s demonstration.

Boyd, Sandeen, Thomas and Whitt agreed to ”post and forfeit,” which is not an admission of guilt and required them to pay a $100 fee by May 24. Until the fee was paid, the four were given a ”stay-away” order, which prohibited them from being in an area surrounding the White House – from E Street on the south to H Street on the north and from West Executive Avenue on the west to East Executive Avenue on the east. Because Get Equal paid the fee for the four, who were represented by Ann Wilcox, on Wednesday, their cases are closed.

Choi and Pietrangelo, however, will face a combined trial on both charges on July 14, a decision that rendered the previously set April 26 hearing for the two men unnecessary. Choi’s lawyer, Jon Katz, objected to the stay-away order, stating that he believed it violated the First Amendment because it was unconstitutionally overbroad. Pietrangelo’s lawyer, Wilcox, joined in his objection.

Ringell asked what restriction would be reasonable, ”particularly since both men have been here before for the same offense.” Katz said there is no reasonable restriction that could be permissibly placed on them beyond saying that they could be told not to violate any laws while in the area. At that point, Ringell decided to hold the matter to be decided later in the afternoon.

When the matter came back to consideration at 20 minutes before 5 p.m., Katz and Wilcox had conferred with the prosecutor to allow a more narrow stay-away order that would have the same west and east boundaries but would only cover the area from State Place on the south to Pennsylvania Avenue on the north. An exception to the order was made ”to attend the White House, if invited.”

The lawyers noted, however, that they maintained their objection to the stay-away order as to any appeal.

Despite the actions on Monday, in which several Get Equal activists disrupted Obama’s speech during a California fund-raiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Tuesday, the words coming from the White House on Wednesday were unlikely to be seen as reassuring to those activists. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responded ”yes” to a question about whether the president is ”committed to them letting the Pentagon work through its working group process until December 1st.”

When asked if that ”rules out legislative action this year,” Gibbs deferred to the ”different branch of government,” but added, ”The president has a process and a proposal I think that he believes is the best way forward to seeing, again, the commitment that he’s made for many years in trying to – changing that law.”

Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura, along with several of the Get Equal activists who interrupted a House Education and Labor Committee meeting on Wednesday morning to protest inaction on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, attended the arraignment.