Unconditional discharge imposed in Professor David Dorfman's AIM pipeline protester case

January 10, 2019
AIM pipeline case

On Tuesday, January 8, Judge Kimberly Ragazzo found the protesters in the AIM pipeline protester case guilty of non-criminal trespass. Despite the finding of guilt, Judge Ragazzo completely rejected the District Attorneys request of a sentence of 300 hours of community service and a maximum fine, and instead imposed an unconditional discharge without any fine or court costs or community service. Further, Judge Ragazzo noted that the protesters could continue protesting as long as they did not break the law.

This decision comes after over two years of work by Professor David Dorfman on the case, assisted by Pace Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic. On October 10, 2016, in protest of the federal government’s decision to allow the pipeline to be installed near the Indian Point power plant, protesters spent over 16 hours inside a section of the pipeline. As a result, the protesters were arrested. Shortly thereafter, Professor Dorfman started his work as the defense attorney for the protesters.

In July 2018, Professor Dorfman successfully won a trial order of dismissal after a week of trial, including intense oral argument. Three of Professor Dorfman’s clients were relieved of the charges they faced, whereas the remaining three were left to defend themselves on the basis of necessity. Professor David Dorfman argued that his remaining three clients were not guilty by way of the necessity defense. “My clients were trying to prevent greater harm by opposing the pipeline.” Some of the greater harms asserted by the defense were a pipeline explosion within 100 feet of Indian Point nuclear plant, the major contribution methane emissions makes to global climate change, and the deleterious health effects of shale gas emissions on people who live near the pipeline.

Judge Ragazzo suggested that the defendants could have done more to legally oppose the AIM pipeline, such as seeking status as intervenors in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authorization process. Professor Dorfman notes that, “Judge Ragazzo appeared to accept the rest of the Necessity defense, specifically as to the imminent and substantial harms caused by the AIM pipeline.”

Professor David Dorfman will appeal the guilty verdict.

The case has been covered extensively in the news. You can read one of the most recent articles about the high profile case here.

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