- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A North Dakota judge had a message for Dakota Access pipeline protesters seeking to avoid paying their public defenders: Get a job.

Two men convicted Tuesday in the first jury trial related to the long-running pipeline protest asked a judge to waive the $500 both were ordered to pay their public defenders.

State District Court Judge Bruce Romanick was having none of it, informing the two men that $500 was far less than a private lawyer would have charged and noting that protesters have demonstrated ample resources when it comes to posting bond.

“You can get a job and pay these costs back,” Judge Romanick said, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Benjamin Schapiro, 30, of Ohio and Steven Voliva, 62, of Washington were found guilty of obstructing a highway and disorderly conduct stemming from a Sept. 27 protest involving hundreds of activists near St. Anthony, North Dakota.

The men each received 10-day suspended sentences for the misdemeanor convictions, and were ordered to pay $500 to law enforcement for reimbursement along, $500 for their public defenders and mandatory court costs.

The defendants argued that they should receive free legal services because they qualify as indigent, but prosecutor Ladd Erickson said protesters have deliberately sought to clog Morton County courts and run up costs as part of their anti-pipeline strategy.

In a Dec. 12 motion, Mr. Erickson said the Morton County state’s attorney’s office would seek reimbursement for the costs of court-appointed counsel in every case related to the Dakota Access protest, which number in the hundreds.

Protesters fighting the 1,172-mile, four-state project have raised millions on crowdfunding websites and received support from the Standing Rock Sioux and national environmental groups since setting up camps on federal land Aug. 10.

“Our systems are set up so criminal defendants have their constitutional rights enforced,” Mr. Erickson said in his motion. “To the contrary, our systems are not set up to be foddered by economic weaponry when people from around the world come to intentionally commit crimes for political purposes and have North Dakota taxpayers pick up the tab.”

The Standing Rock Sioux scored a victory earlier this month when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would undertake an additional environmental review after the tribe raised concerns about water quality and historic relics stemming from the pipeline, which runs about a half-mile from the reservation.

The state has so far allocated $17 million to handle the additional law-enforcement costs of the protests.

“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,” said WDAY-AM radio talk-show host Rob Port on his Say Anything blog.

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