Strong Opinions About Wind Projects Emerge In Juror Selection

Strong Opinions About Wind Projects Emerge In Juror Selection

NEWPORT CITY — The attorneys in the Lowell wind trespass case whittled down a pool of potential jurors Thursday morning, finding that some had strong opinions about wind power in Vermont.

But in the end, after hours of questioning, huddled meetings at the bench and several discussions in chambers, the court emerged with 13 jurors ready to hear the case of six protesters next month.

Judge Martin Maley in Orleans Superior Court — Criminal Division advised the room full of juror candidates that they didn’t have to be ignorant of the trespassing case or have no opinions about the wind project in Lowell.

“The case is fairly high profile,” Maley said. “Many of you folks read about it. … That’s OK. What we are looking for are open minds.”

The jury draw Thursday came four days after other protesters blocked a truck carrying wind turbine parts to the Lowell wind site on Monday, becoming a top news story in Vermont.

Orleans County Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker asked if anyone knew about the wind project and the protests. Nearly everyone of the juror candidates nodded.

Maley stepped in to help. “Does anybody ‘not’ have any knowledge?” he asked, to laughter.

Several juror candidates were outspoken in favor or opposition to wind projects. Others only offered their opinions when asked directly, with most supporting wind projects.One, from Craftsbury, spoke up to say he opposed wind projects. He also said that civil disobedience isn’t just breaking the law. Like African Americans sitting at an all-white lunch counter in the South to fight racism, protests can be justified, he said.

“I would have trouble with it,” he said about being impartial. He said he didn’t want to be on the jury.

Most of the nearly 35 who were questioned said they liked wind power or did not have an opinion about it.

“I feel that we have to change direction,” said one juror candidate. “That’s why I support wind power. … I still think I can sit here and look into both sides.”

Others said they supported freedom of speech and protesting.

Many who spoke up were likely challenged as jurors by either defense attorney Kristina Michelsen or Baker and removed from the jury pool.

One elderly gentleman, Carl Nelson, drew laughter when asked if he knew Don Nelson, a wind opponent and neighbor to the wind project site. Carl Nelson is Don’s cousin.

Another man said he is a farmer, knows Don Nelson well and would be biased against the charges.

The defense is expected to try to raise reasonable doubt about who owns the wind project site where the six protesters stood on the ridgeline to block construction equipment on Dec. 5. They claim that they had permission from Don Nelson to be there on land that is leased by developer Green Mountain Power for the wind project.

The six, plus a reporter, were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge. They declined an offer of Diversion, which would clear their records, saying they want their case to go to trial. The reporter, The Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite, goes to trial separately.

Potential jurors didn’t know most of the six protesters. They are Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield, Dr. Ron Holland, 67, of Irasburg, Suzanna Jones, 50, of Walden, Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury Common, David Rogers, 69, of Craftsbury and Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Woodbury.

Some jurors knew Dr. Holland, who is an emergency room doctor at North Country Hospital. Morse is a professor at Sterling College in Craftsbury, but no one among the jurors who were questioned by attorneys knew her.

Juror candidates were more familiar with some of the local law enforcement officers scheduled to testify about the arrests. One juror candidate was taken out of the jury pool after he said he had heard things that weren’t positive about a deputy sheriff.

A handful of jury candidates had a family member or neighbor working at the wind site. Some of those were removed from the pool.

Another juror candidate, a former corrections officer, said she did not appreciate how some in prison protested to get better treatment. She was taken out of the pool.

Both attorneys questioned the first 24 jury candidates and went into chambers with Maley and the six protesters to raise challenges about some jurors.

They emerged after a half hour to ask 11 jurors to step down from the pool. Most of those who were taken out had either taken strong opinions about wind either way or had strong opinions about law enforcement.

After adding another 11 candidates to the selection pool, both attorneys asked questions again.

Michelsen began to ask more direct questions about wind power to each juror who she said was quiet during general questioning.

Interestingly, most of those supported wind power when asked directly.

“I tend to enjoy it,” said one, calling turbines “a sign of progress.”

Another said that when he heard that protesters blocked traffic, “any sign of support was quickly gone.”

“I like watching turbines,” said another candidate.

Another said she didn’t mind turbines on ridgelines.

Michelsen was beginning to question even those juror candidates that had not been challenged after the first round.

Maley stopped her.

After more than four hours and a short lunch break, the attorneys had narrowed the field to 14. However, one announced at the last minute that she had a doctor’s appointment that she didn’t realize conflicted with the Aug. 15 trial.

She was removed, and the attorneys agreed to go with 13 jurors.

All 13 will hear the trial. At the end of arguments and before the judge gives the case to the jury, one will be selected by lottery as an alternate and dismissed.

7/19/2012 8:46:00 AM
Lowell Wind: Attorneys Will Quiz Jurors In Big Wind Case

Robin Smith
Staff Writer

NEWPORT CITY — Attorneys in the Lowellwind trespassing case will ask potential jurors today for their opinions about industrial-sized wind projects.

Judge Martin Maley on Thursday morning also gave permission to the defense attorney for the “Lowell Six” protesters and the deputy state’s attorney to challenge up to 13 potential jurors for their fitness to hear the case against the protesters, nearly twice the usual number.

“It would be hard to believe folks … haven’t heard about it,” Maley said at the pre-trial hearing for the Lowell Six in Orleans Superior Court — Criminal Division.

Attorneys would need to know if potential jurors had such strong opinions that they couldn’t be fair in judgment in the case, Maley said.

“It’s not practical to avoid it,” defense attorney Kristina

“It would be important to know” what jurors think, Maley said.

Six protesters, including an emergency room doctor from North Country Hospital and a Sterling College professor, pleaded not guilty to criminal trespassing after being arrested Dec. 5 on property which both developer Green Mountain Power (GMP) and project neighbors Don and Shirley Nelson claim was under their lawful possession.

The protesters are Ryan

GMP has a lease for the wind site from property owner Trip Wileman of Lowell. The Nelsons are suing Wileman and GMP over where the property line is located.

The criminal charges say that the six protesters trespassed on the GMP site in order to blockade construction vehicles from using the crane path. They stopped work for hours before being arrested.

A journalist covering the protest, The Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite, has also been charged. He is pursuing a freedom of the press angle and a different track to trial.

An essential element in the case is whether the state can prove that the protesters were on property under the control of GMP. Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker intends to call the surveyor who established the property line for Wileman and an official with GMP to testify about the lease that GMP has with Wileman.

Baker intends to ask the surveyor and the GMP official to testify in the criminal trial what they said at a hearing in the civil lawsuit between GMP, Wileman and the Nelsons last fall.

Neither is allowed to use civil orders about the lawsuit in the criminal trial.

Ironically, Maley is the judge that granted the civil orders involving the wind project, including a preliminary injunction to GMP last fall that created a short-term blasting safety zone on Nelson property. Maley is hearing the civil lawsuits.

He was in Newport conducting pre-trial criminal hearings because the sitting judge Robert Gerety Jr. was hearing a trial elsewhere, court officials said.

In cleaning up other pre-trial issues, Maley asked Baker to make sure to provide copies of documents to

“It’s incredibly unfair,” she said, adding that the state was playing “hide-the-ball.”

“It bugs me,” she said, that she didn’t have all the documents she needed heading into the jury draw today. She also complained that she shouldn’t have to make copies from civil case documents at a cost to her clients when she could get them from the state.

Baker said it was an error that documents were not sent as requested to

Maley said depositions would force a delay in the case, and that

In the end

Maley said he wanted all the documents produced and shared within a week.

The situation is unusual because misdemeanor cases seldom go to trial and there are different rules for how depositions of potential trial witnesses are handled, Maley said.

However, the cases are also unusual because they involve the Lowell wind project, he said.

“These cases are really high profile. I understand.”

4 comments on “Strong Opinions About Wind Projects Emerge In Juror Selection

  1. Suze says:

    Sounds like there are a lot of jurors who will have bias towards the protesters. I have my doubts about the fairness of this. These jurors don’t seem to know about the serious detrimental affects of wind and so lean towards being in favor of it. I think this will bias them.

    • jjjones7 says:

      I agree Suze….I also do not like the fact that the people who said that they Enjoyed the Wind Turbines and had no problem with them.were left on the juror role…..Is the Hearing about liking the turbines or Property Rights for the Nelsons??

  2. ed wolfe says:

    care to add the cost of this to renewable energy ?

  3. Daisy says:

    sounds like they’re trying to find individuals who have no strong feelings one way or the other so that it will be a fair trial

Comments are closed.