The legal defense team for the 88 pro-life protesters arrested at the University of Notre Dame may now seek testimony from university officials after a judge’s ruling lifted a stay.
The protesters, called the ND88, were arrested for trespassing during their demonstrations against the May 2009 commencement speech of President Barack Obama, who was granted an honorary degree by the university.
St. Joseph County, Indiana Superior Court Chief Judge Michael P. Scopelitis lifted a stay order on defense lawyers. They may now seek testimony under oath from key decision makers in the arrest of the protesters. The lawyers may also subpoena documents revealing apparent inconsistencies in the treatment of the pro-life protesters compared with other protesting groups.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said the lifting of the stay was “very significant.”
"A Notre Dame alumni group, Sycamore Trust, recently reported that homosexual rights and anti-ROTC protesters received, at worst, mere slaps on the wrist for leading unauthorized protests on campus. We believe that through discovery we may well uncover evidence that the Notre Dame police engaged in 'viewpoint discrimination:' that the university singled out the ND88 for especially harsh treatment."
Judge Scopelitis also ruled that once the discovery process is completed, he may convene an evidentiary hearing to review the defendants’ “global” legal defenses before any individual trials.
Tom Dixon, an attorney defending the ND88, said this means the judge wants to be sure the defenses are presented in the “appropriate procedural vehicle.”
The Thomas More Society says it has urged Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to request that the charges be dropped against the ND88, in the same way trespass charges were dropped against homosexual rights activists and anti-military protesters on the Notre Dame campus.