Activists affiliated with animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, are now facing trespassing and conspiracy to commit trespassing charges for their actions at Sunrise Farms and Reichardt Duck Farm in 2018 and 2019.
Defendants Cassandra King, Wayne Hsiung and Priya Sawhney have recently received adjusted charges, according to DxE press coordinator Alison Barnard. Their trial will begin Sept. 8 at the Santa Rosa Courthouse.
In the defendants’ pre-trial readiness hearing Sept. 1, Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner amended their charges, Barnard said, eliminating previous burglary and theft charges. Hsiung and Sawhney now face two counts of felony conspiracy to commit trespass and two counts of misdemeanor trespass. King faces these same charges but all as misdemeanors.
Waner has objected to three requests of media coverage of the trial, and the court has issued a gag order on the defendants to restrict them and their representation from speaking to the press about the case, Barnard noted. Barnard said the judge argued this order was issued due to concerns that media coverage could sway potential jurors.
“The decision raises questions about the influence that corporations wield over the legal system,” Barnard said in an email. “It also raises concerns about the extent to which the corporations in this trial, Sunrise and Reichardt, can control public perception by restricting whistleblowers from their right to free speech.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of UC Berkeley Law, provided DxE with a statement arguing that this order is a violation of the defendant’s First Amendment rights, Barnard noted. He said one of his concerns is that the defendants cannot speak to the press, while the animal agriculture industry can.
Chemerinsky’s statement will be included in a motion to vacate the gag order, which the defense plans to issue Friday, according to Barnard.
“Chemerinsky also points out that a gag order does not prevent media attention; it simply dilutes the accuracy of the media attention by taking away the most accurate sources of information,” wrote Izaak Schwaiger, attorney for King, in a draft of the motion to vacate. “Nothing about the Court’s order will stop the news from covering the trial.”
On August 30, Harvard Law professor Kristen Stilt submitted a brief in support of the defendants, stating that the necessity defense should be interpreted to apply when individuals act “to prevent significant bodily harm or evil to an animal,” as animals are sentient and can suffer bodily harm.
She noted that this interpretation is supported by California public policy and “the intent of the California legislature to aid animals in distress,” even when individuals trespass to do so and the animals in need of care are agricultural animals.
She cited California’s Vehicle Confinement Law, the Good Samaritan Laws and the Impounded Animal Law as examples of laws that value preventing bodily harm to animals.
“Aiding animals in distress is encouraged in California, even when doing so involves damage to property or trespassing,” Stilt says in her brief. “It would be an absurd and irrational result to reject the interpretation that preventing bodily harm to an animal can also serve as a basis for the necessity defense.”