Oct. 09–BAGLEY — The jury trial for three defendants charged with property damage to an oil pipeline in 2016 started Monday in the Clearwater County Courthouse.
The trial stems from a mid-October 2016 incident when the defendants used bolt cutters to gain access to an Enbridge pipeline facility near Leonard, Minn.
Emily Johnston, of Seattle, has been charged with causing property damage to a pipeline. Both Annette Klapstein, of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Benjamin Joldersma, of Seattle, have been charged with aiding the property damage of a pipeline. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty and were in court Monday in Bagley.
A fourth person involved with the original incident, Steven Liptay, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was originally charged in the event, but was not part of the trial Monday, although he was in the audience.
The tampering at the Enbridge facility near Leonard was part of a coordinated effort by Climate Direct Action, which carried out similar actions at oil facilities in North Dakota, Washington and Montana, on Oct. 11, 2016.
In court Monday, Judge Robert Tiffany informed the jury pool that while the three defendants were joined together in one case, their charges were to be considered independently of one another.
There were three attorneys representing the defendants in court Monday, Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore., Kelsey Skaggs of the Climate Defense Project in San Francisco and Twin-Cities based attorney Timothy Phillips.
Alan Rogalla, Clearwater County attorney, is prosecuting the case for the state.
Monday’s first day dealt with jury selection. In addition to a host of routine questions, the pool of potential jurors were asked where they stood on climate change, which is specifically related to the motives of the defendants.
In October 2017, Tiffany ruled that the defendants could use the “necessity defense,” which essentially means the defendants can claim they had to perform the crime in order to prevent greater harm. In this case, the defendants say the greater harm is climate change that is impacted by oil pipelines.
Tiffany’s ruling on the necessity defense was appealed until it reached the Minnesota State Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case after the Minnesota Court of Appeals supported the defendants.
Those in the jury pool Monday provided a range of answers to the question of climate change. While some said they don’t believe in global warming, others said they not only believed in global warming but that humans are a contributing factor. Others still said they believed the climate is changing but they don’t necessarily attribute that to the use of fossil fuels or other human-related activity.
The jurors also were asked if they thought it was permissible to violate the law if it was done for a moral belief.
Many of the jurors said “no.” A few, however, gave slightly more lenient answers. For example, one potential juror said although she thought it was permissible to break the law for a moral belief, the person should also be ready to accept the consequences of doing so.
At the end of proceedings, the jury pool was dismissed after the prosecution and defense agreed on a group of individuals who would be acceptable as jurors. After the jury pool was dismissed, both the prosecution and the defense began to pare down the group to a list of 12 jurors and two alternates.The jury is expected to be finalized and seated Tuesday morning.
The Clearwater County proceedings come after a similar trial in North Dakota last fall that involved Climate Direct Action and the tampering of oil pipelines. Michael Eric Foster, Seattle, was then sentenced in February to a year in prison with two years deferred for his role in the tampering of a TransCanada Keystone pipeline near Walhalla, N.D., on the same day as the Clearwater County incident. A second man, Samuel Jessup, Winooski, Vt., was sentenced to two years in prison with both years deferred in that case.
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