For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Celia Alario, +1.310.721.6517 celiaalario@gmail.com 
Alec Connon, + 1.206.258.9176 alecconnon@gmail.com

As Landmark ‘Climate Necessity Defense’ Trial Opens Today in MN, Shocking Last Minute Court Ruling Silences Scientists Scheduled to Provide Expert Testimony

Bagley, MN - A groundbreaking ‘climate necessity defense’ trial of Valve Turners Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and their support person Ben Joldersma begins today in Clearwater County, Minnesota. The three are standing trial for their role in a coordinated action in 2016 that shut down every tar sands crude pipeline coming into the United States. The action temporarily halted the flow of 2.8 million barrels of oil, which according to a report from Reuters was equivalent to 15% of daily U.S. oil consumption. 

The trial has been delayed for over a year as the prosecution sought to overturn the District Court’s earlier written ruling expressly allowing a necessity defense, a decision upheld by a MN appeals court, and affirmed by the State’s Supreme Court. 

Yet, in a stunning, 11th hour reversal by the court, attorneys Lauren Regan (Civil Liberties Defense Center ), Tim Phillips, and Kelsey Skaggs (Climate Defense Project) will be prohibited from calling their full suite of planned expert witnesses including climate scientists Dr. James E. Hansen, Dr. Mark Seeley and Dr. Peter Reich; public health expert Dr. Bruce Synder; renowned climate and policy experts Dr. Martin Gilens, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, nonviolent direct action historian Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution and 350.org cofounder Bill McKibben; and oil infrastructure expert Dr. Anthony Ingraffea. The experts were poised to testify on the overwhelming threats of climate change, and why the Valve Turners’ actions were not only right, but necessary in today’s challenging political paralysis.

Indicating that he believed that it would be confusing information for the jury, the court barred testimony from defense experts on the barriers to effective political action for addressing climate change, the efficacy of civil disobedience historically, and the imminence of climate change.

“I’m baffled by the surreal nature of this court’s decision and timing,” said Annette Klapstein. “We were looking forward to entrusting this case to a Minnesota jury of our peers to decide after hearing expert scientists and social scientists discuss the facts of climate change and public policy. By requiring us to establish the necessity defense, without allowing us to use our planned expert testimony to do so, the court has placed an overwhelming burden on us.”

“Four days before trial, for no apparent reason, the court eviscerated our defense, and essentially overruled itself,” defendant Emily Johnston, a Seattle-based poet, said. “It is impossible for us to properly defend ourselves without expert testimony.” 

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“The irony is that the judge may be proving our point—we acted as we did because we know that the paralysis and myopia of the executive and legislative branches with regard to climate change mean that the political system itself must be shaken up if there is to be any hope for all of us. We were hoping that the judiciary might show the way,” Johnston added.

The trial is expected to complete this week. If the jury is allowed to consider this testimony, it will be the first time a 'climate necessity defense' has been considered in a US jury trial.

For more on the action and the trial: http://www.shutitdown.today/

Daily updates during the trial will be posted on the Shut It Down Facebook page.

On Twitter, follow @ClimateDA and @enjohnston, as well as the hashtags #ClimateTrial and #FossilFuelsOnTrial for the latest.

Background and Resources

Check out these short videos of Emily and Annette, and see bios for all the Valve-Turners here.   
 
See this February 2018 piece in New York Times Magazine for an in-depth look at the Valve-Turners and check out other media coverage of the actions and previous Valve-Turner trials here.
 
More on this Climate Necessity Defense here and here.
 
Info about prior Valve Turner Cases: In Washington, Valve Turner Ken Ward had one hung jury on two charges, and, on a split verdict in a second trial, was found guilty of one count of burglary, and sentenced to time served and 30 days of community service. Ken's conviction has been appealed on the basis that he was denied a necessity, and will be heard by a Washington appeals court in November.
 
In Montana, Leonard Higgins was found guilty of criminal mischief and misdemeanor criminal trespass, sentenced to three years deferred imprisonment, meaning he will serve no jail time. Leonard’s conviction has been appealed on the basis that he was denied a necessity defense 
 
In North Dakota, Michael Foster was convicted of criminal mischief, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief (both felonies) and criminal trespass (a misdemeanor), and sentenced to three years, two deferred, for which he served 6 months. Michael's conviction has been appealed on a question of application of state law. Sam Jessup, who live-streamed Foster’s action, was convicted of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief (a felony) and conspiracy trespass (a misdemeanor), and was required to pay $5,000 restitution.
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