Arrestees take plea deal

The students charged in the May 4 sit-in pleaded guilty to get reduced penalties.

Devon Sykes

Five current and former students took last-minute plea bargains Monday after the judge presiding over their case reduced the penalties they faced.

University police arrested the five during a May 4 sit-in, where they protested changes to the General College. They refused to leave University President Bob Bruininks’ office in Morrill Hall by 6 p.m.

Nine students were arrested at the time of the sit-in and were all charged with trespassing, but four took plea bargains earlier this summer.

Political science junior Rus Lyons, one of the arrested students, said the five chose to take the bargain after the judge reduced the penalties.

The City Attorney’s Office originally offered a $200 fine for a guilty plea, which was raised to $300 before Monday’s trial. Under that plea bargain, the students also would have to agree not to engage in any protests or acts of civil disobedience.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Tony Leung said the plea bargain was unreasonable, Lyons said. The judge changed the penalties to 16 hours of community service and forfeiture of the $50 bail the students paid when they were arrested in May, he said.

National Lawyers Guild president Bruce Nestor, who helped represent the students, said they pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petty misdemeanor trespassing, a noncriminal violation.

“They’ll have no criminal record as a result of this,” he said.

Lyons said he was pleased with the outcome.

“It really could not have gone any better,” Lyons said.

Laura Freund, who also accepted the plea bargain, said the deal allowed the students to continue working for the General College Truth Movement, a group dedicated to preventing changes to the General College under the University realignment plan.

“This trial isn’t about us; it’s about General College,” she said. “Our intention was not to be arrested, the University had us arrested.”

Allegations that the University had a direct influence on the prosecution have surfaced in this case.

Lyons said he saw one of the University’s legal counsels, University Deputy General Counsel Bill Donohue, sitting with the prosecution during a hearing, which was about the defense team’s subpoena of Bruininks and Robert Jones, senior vice president for systems administration.

“He was leading a lot of what the prosecution was saying,” Lyons said. “If he was just following the case, he should’ve been in the audience instead of sitting with the prosecution.”

Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, said Donohue was present because the General Counsel’s Office represents University officials when they are subpoenaed.

“We believe that the subpoenas were not appropriate, because neither individual had anything to do with the arrest,” he said.

Both subpoenas were defeated.