Judge Orders #NoDAPL Defendants to Pay Their Lawyers: “You Can Get a Job and Pay These Costs Back”


Arrested protestors sit along North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Earlier this month a state prosecutor handling some of the hundreds of criminal cases resulting from the #NoDAPL protests filed a motion stating that the state would be seeking to have the activist defendants reimburse the state for their public defenders.

McLean County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson argued that the protesters weren’t really indigent, that they had millions raised for their legal defense, and that their use of public defenders was really just a way to harm the state financially by making the legal proceedings as costly as possible for taxpayers.

Fast forward to yesterday, the first two #NoDAPL defendants were convicted on misdemeanor charges related to blocking a public road. The pair got a 10 day suspended jail sentence and were ordered to not only pay $500 in restitution to law enforcement but also another $500 to their public defenders per this Bismarck Tribune report:

Romanick’s decision to order reimbursement to the attorneys came upon a request from Erickson. The prosecutor told the judge in court he intended to seek a hearing for reimbursement after the trial, because he contends the protesters are seeking to do economic harm to Morton County through their arrests. The defense attorneys opposed this, since their clients were indigent enough to qualify for appointed counsel, and said they had not tracked their hours.

The judge set the fees at $500, which he said was less than any of the protesters could have paid for a private attorney. He noted the protesters are almost always able to make bond, and he suggested that meant they ought to be able to pay for their defense, too.

“You can get a job and pay these costs back,” the judge is quoted as saying.

While $500 doesn’t cover anything close to the costs of providing public defenders to these activists, it’s also not nothing.

In his original motion Erickson did a pretty good job of laying out evidence that the #NoDAPL movement was working to run up costs for taxpayers. He even cited a YouTube interview with one of the protest movement’s lawyers where the talked about that very tactic (it has since been taken down).

And we have independent media reports describing how the protesters identified specific activists to get arrested, such as these tweets from a Bismarck Tribune reporter who was covering a protest in November:

It seems, at least based on these first cases, that Erickson’s arguments have won out.

If this trend continues for other #NoDAPL-related convictions that will be great news for North Dakota taxpayers, and not-so-great news for the activist defendants.

I almost feel a little bad for the defendants. They’ve been used, I think. They were cannon fodder urged to violence and mayhem by protest organizers, and now they’re paying the price.