My preliminary hearing took place this past Thursday (10/15), and the result was the worst case scenario I had envisioned going into it – I was railroaded, and my case was rubber stamped for criminal trial by a hostile judge.
While preparing for the hearing, several friends advised me to consult legal counsel, so I looked into it. I did not qualify for a Public Defender (I am too “rich”), but I couldn’t afford a private lawyer without significant financial hardship. The procedure for a preliminary hearing looked pretty straight-forward – it’s very limited what a defendant can do – so I thought I would just do my best to represent myself. In the worst case scenario I could then imagine – that the hearing would be presided over by a hostile judge already familiar with my case and against me from the beginning – it wouldn’t matter if I had legal counsel or not. I would just be out whatever money I had paid the lawyer to represent me.
Lady Luck was not in my corner that day. The presiding judge (Hawley) was clearly already familiar with my case. After I told him that I intended to represent myself, he said, “Let me tell you right now, Mr. Edge: I will not allow you to use this courtroom as a political platform, and if you attempt to do so, I will hold you in contempt of court.” This was Hawley’s introduction to me, and things only got worse from there.
Most of the questions I had prepared were deemed legally “irrelevant” by Hawley. Whether or not the minors were allowed to leave: irrelevant. Whether or not the minors’ arrests were a precondition to mine: irrelevant. Whether my arresting officer was familiar with the curfew ordinance and with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”: irrelevant. On this last point, the judge himself objected. He said, “Mr. Edge, I assure you that we’ve had cases of ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ in this City before, and I am familiar with the law.” This was stated with a sneering, annoyed tone, along with most of Hawley’s other comments.
Regarding Nelson’s knowledge of the curfew law, I asked him if, according to the ordinance, minors were to be given the opportunity to leave. He answered, “If they violate the curfew, then they are to be detained.” I asked again, “But does the curfew not state that minors are to be given the opportunity to leave before they are detained?” Nelson repeated the same answer. At this point, Hawley interjected again: “Look, Mr. Edge, a police officer doesn’t have a lot of authority over the law while he’s out on the street. All he can do is use his discretion to some extent about whether to enforce the law in a particular situation. He even told them to leave, when he could have just detained them.”
“Your Honor,” I said, “the curfew ordinance directly states that minors are to be given the opportunity to leave before being detained,” and I read to him the relevant lines from the ordinance.
He replied, “Well, he told them to leave, and they refused, and he used his discretion in detaining them.”
The whole thing seemed really bizarre. In some instances the judge would initiate (and, I assume, sustain) objections to my questions completely independent of the prosecution. In others, the prosecutor would say “objection,” and Hawley would cut him off to explain, and sustain, the objection.
Hawley frequently interrupted the proceedings to argue in favor of the prosecution or to badger me about my ignorance of legal procedure. When I asked Nelson if anyone had told him that I instructed them to break the law, Hawley cut in to say, “You don’t have to instruct anyone to break the law, you just have to entice them, and this [referring to the protest flier I had handed out prior to the event] looks like enticement to me.”
Nelson did acknowledge that no one ever told him I had instructed anyone to break the law. He acknowledged that he never questioned anyone about whether I knew how old any of the protesters were. He acknowledged that he never questioned anyone about anything related to my case at all -- before, during or after my arrest. What it came down to was the protest flier. The very fact that I distributed the flier, regardless of whether I specifically targeted any age group, was deemed sufficient evidence for the judge to bind my case over to trial. Nelson even acknowledged that the young men he detained did not have any protest fliers in their possession. That Major McLaughlin of the Greenville City PD had been sent this flier the day before my arrest, and that officers on duty that night (including Nelson) knew about the protest beforehand, apparently were not factors taken into consideration by Hawley when weighing his decision.
I had seen Hawley preside over traffic court a few weeks earlier, and the calm, reasonable man I met at that time bore no resemblance to the indignant, annoyed, belligerent judge who presided over my case. He had his mind made up before he walked into that courtroom. He was doing his worst, not only to argue in favor of the prosecution, but to embarrass me in the process.
While unable to cow me into submission, Hawley did accomplish a few things: he succeeded in looking like an asshole lording over an innocent man from high atop his throne. And he proved that corruption comes in many forms.
The more I think about this, the more angry I become. So I’m wrapping up this blog post for now. Unfortunately, no transcript was made at the hearing. I felt that I needed to chronicle my side of things while the experience was still fresh in my mind.
Thanks for reading,