In a brief but contentious District Court hearing yesterday, a Baltimore County assistant state's attorney declined to prosecute eight anti-war protesters arrested last year at Towson Town Center on trespassing charges.
The protesters asked to read a short statement about their demonstration March 1 at the mall, where they distributed 500 pamphlets about the then-looming war with Iraq. But Judge Bruce S. Lamdin denied the request, angrily telling the group that if they spoke without answering a question put to them, they would be arrested.
"What should have been a simple proceeding unfortunately turned into a test of wills. It was a totally unnecessary assertion of judicial authority," said C. William Michaels, a Baltimore attorney representing five of the protesters. "There was no indication there would be an interruption."
Neither the judge nor the prosecutor returned calls yesterday seeking comment.
The criminal charges against the men and women, who call themselves the "Towson Town 8," were placed on an inactive court docket for a year. The state's attorney's office could petition the court to try the cases within three years if the protesters are arrested again or if they violate laws on mall property.
The protesters, members of the Baltimore chapter of Iraq Pledge of Resistance, intend to test what they call their First Amendment right to speak in areas such as malls.
It's been several years since a peace activist has been tried in the county for civil disobedience, said Max Obuszewski, one of the protesters. "It may be time again," he added.
The group, which held an anti-war rally outside the courthouse yesterday, was banned for life from Towson Town Center by the Rouse Co., the mall's owner. The ban was rescinded.