The CLDC’s work on behalf of the Valve Turners continues this summer. On April 8, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled in Ken Ward’s favor and affirmed his right to present a climate necessity defense to a jury of his peers. Soon thereafter, the State of Washington sought further review of the Court of Appeals decision by filing a petition for review at the Washington Supreme Court.

Ken Ward’s legal team, which consists of Lauren Regan of the CLDC, Ralph Hurvitz, our Washington local counsel extraordinaire, and Alice Cherry of Climate Defense Project (an organization co-founded by Lauren’s former law clerk Ted Hamilton), filed a response to the petition. The Washington Supreme Court normally accepts less than 10% of all petitions filed seeking further review. Currently, the Court of Appeals decision regarding the right to present the climate necessity defense is only legally binding on Division 1 courts in Washington (meaning those courts must follow this ruling), although it can be used as persuasive authority (not as controlling on future court decisions) in other places. If the Washington Supreme Court takes up review of this Court of Appeals decision, the outcome will result in binding caselaw on the entire state of Washington and will increase the persuasive authority of the opinion around the country! Stay tuned for additional updates.

In other Valve Turner updates, Leonard Higgins’ Montana legal team (Lauren Regan, CLDC, Herman Watson, our Montana local counsel, and CDP’s Alice Cherry and Kelsey Skaggs) recently filed the opening brief appealing the Montana trial court’s denial of Leonard’s necessity defense. The State of Montana is due to file their response brief at the end of June and then we will file our reply brief, which will ask the Montana court to follow the guidance of the Washington Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court—both of which have now affirmed the right of climate defenders to present the climate necessity defense to a jury if they are able to meet an initial threshold of facts and law.

We remain hopeful that after over 15 years of CLDC work developing and fine tuning necessity defenses for activists, the courts are finally removing themselves from arbitering the politics of the case and are focusing on the 6th Amendment rights of a defendant to fight the State’s repressive attacks on dissenters by allowing them to mount the defenses they believe a jury should hear in order to determine whether they should be found guilty or not. The Washington and Minnesota appellate rulings are very significant for water protectors and climate defenders around the country.

The CLDC will continue to defend as many frontline activists as possible—at no cost to them—and we continue to seek additional activist defense attorneys to join our legal team. If you are a lawyer who has defended activists for at least five years and you have movement background and orientation (security culture, digital security, etc.), please contact us to discuss whether you are a good fit for the CLDC.

Our work on behalf of the Valve Turners and other frontline climate activists is not over. If you support this work, please consider making a donation to expand our capacity to defend the defenders for free. Assert your rights, we’ve got your back!