Washington -- A federal judge in Miami today granted
Greenpeace's motion for a jury trial against unprecedented criminal
charges, setting the stage for a courtroom battle that could have a
significant impact on Americans' right to peaceful protest. In July
2003, the Justice Department charged Greenpeace under an obscure
1872 law against "sailormongering" for a 2002 protest. Judge
Adalberto Jordan, agreeing with Greenpeace's assertion, found that
"the indictment is a rare -- and maybe unprecedented -- prosecution
of an advocacy group" for free speech-related conduct.
Judge Jordan postponed ruling on Greenpeace's motion to dismiss
the indictment, but he warned the Justice Department that he might
grant the motion after the presentation of facts at trial. He
expressed doubts about the Justice Department's ability to prevail
against Greenpeace's claim that the criminal statute involved is
unfairly vague. "It is not a good sign," he wrote, "when the
government resorts to defining a phrase by repeating the phrase
Judge Jordan granted a jury as a matter of discretion, citing
the unusual nature of the prosecution. "This case," he wrote, "may
Ö signal a change in DOJ [Justice Department] policy." He also
noted, "The prosecution has generated charges that the indictment
of Greenpeace is politically motivated due to the organization's
criticism of President Bush's environmental policies."
John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace, said, "We
look forward to proving at trial that we are not guilty of the
charges and that we were doing the right thing to protect the
"We are gratified that the judge recognizes the significance of
this case by granting our request to present the case before a
jury," said Passacantando. "The unprecedented nature of this
prosecution has the potential to transform an important aspect of
our nation's legal and political life, significantly affecting our
tradition of civil protest. The conduct for which the Ashcroft
Justice Department seeks to prosecute Greenpeace was, essentially,
whistle-blowing -- publicly exposing and preventing violations of
U.S. law prohibiting the importation of illegally harvested
mahogany wood. The Justice Department's prosecution of Greenpeace
is unwarranted and politically motivated."
Still pending before Judge Jordan is Greenpeace's motion to
obtain information on whether the Government is engaged in improper
In April 2002, two Greenpeace activists climbed onto a
commercial ship off the Florida coast with a banner that read,
"President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging." The ship was carrying
mahogany wood illegally exported from Brazil's Amazon rainforest.
The individuals involved in the protest settled charges against
them in 2002. However, rather than prosecuting the importers of the
illegal mahogany, the Justice Department filed criminal charges
against Greenpeace itself in July 2003.
Numerous leaders, legal scholars and groups have publicly
criticized the prosecution; they include former Vice President
Gore, Senator Patrick Leahy, Julian Bond and the NAACP, the ACLU of
Florida, People for the American Way, the Sierra Club, the Natural
Resources Defense Council, the Miami Herald, the San
Francisco Chronicle and the Denver Post.
Order on Pending Motions (pdf).