GMP Email Documents Unsealed by Court/A Small Victory

Braithwaite Motion to Dismiss

My Favorite Picture Of The Day

A Small Victory
The state dismissed unlawful trespass charges against Barton Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite on Wednesday. It was the right decision, reached for the wrong reasons, far too long in coming.

The dismissal, without prejudice, came one year after Braithwaite was arrested while covering a protest against Green Mountain Power’s wind project on Lowell Mountain. During that time he suffered the mentionable anxiety of fighting criminal charges and incurred over $10,000 in legal expenses.

For doing his job of keeping the public informed.

The Orleans County State’s Attorney office presumably decided to drop the case (a week before it was set to go to trial) after defense attorney Phil White secured GMP e-mails stating reporters were explicitly not to be arrested. The emails underscored legitimate company concerns that arresting a reporter would yield a public relations nightmare. GMP bosses instructed its people on the ground — led by employee David Coriell — to leave the press alone.

Those material exchanges left the state unable to make a trespassing case — GMP bosses clearly said, amongst themselves, that reporters could be on the mountain. The emails contrast Sheriff Kirk Martin’s understanding, communicated at the time, that GMP wanted everyone arrested.

The weak link looks like Coriell. In a May deposition Coriell confirmed that he told authorities that anyone on the hill was to be arrested for trespassing — no exceptions. Later he demurred, but to no great effect. He was the ranking GMP employee on the hill, he knew of his company’s directives and miscommunicated them to law enforcement.

As GMP feared, Braithwaite’s arrest kicked off a flurry of discussions about the First Amendment rights of a free press versus property rights. White got astutely to the core of the issue. “A lot of people thought this was a simple trespassing case, but any time a journalist is arrested trying to cover the actions of government — arresting protesters on an important issue — it is a serious matter,” he said.

Serious indeed. And wholly unavoidable. Braithwaite’s arrest served absolutely nobody.

He is a talented and seasoned journalist who was on Lowell Mountain covering a story. His attendance there benefited everyone — police, GMP, the public and the protesters. His job, which he has done superlatively for decades, is to provide an objective third-party account, to document events and offer unbiased context for them.

At the time there was a delicate peace on the mountain, enforced by police and enjoyed by mutually distrusting parties. Forget about his unambiguous First Amendment protections and the essential role of the free press, for a moment. It just made sense for Chris to be there.

In the end, justice was served. Sort of.

Green Mountain Power should have come forward, long before they were compelled to by subpoena, to admit that a mistake had been made. Even without a forthcoming mea culpa from GMP, the state should have had the common sense to dismiss the charges. Both parties were complicit in perpetuating this travesty.