Nearly two months after union supporters filled New Haven streets in support of striking Yale workers, union members and backers including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and the leaders of Yale’s two largest unions filled the second floor of the New Haven Superior Court building Friday to resolve charges resulting from those actions.
The court dismissed disorderly conduct charges against approximately 125 union members and other strike supporters, including national labor leaders, who were arrested for acts of civil disobedience including blocking traffic at the intersection of York and Elm streets during a September protest against the University.
Cases against those who were charged with more than one act of disorderly conduct and those who were not able to go to court Friday were postponed until Nov. 25.
Local 35 President Bob Proto, Local 34 President Laura Smith and John Wilhelm ’67, the president of the parent union of locals 34 and 35, were among protesters who were charged twice.
The charges resulted from actions by members of locals 34 and 35 during a three-week strike that ended Sept. 18. Locals 34 and 35 are Yale’s largest unions, representing 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
In an earlier agreement with the defense, the prosecutor’s office agreed to allow the judge to dismiss charges against all defendants facing only one case of disorderly conduct. In each of these cases, the prosecution nolled the case — agreeing, for the time being, not to pursue further action — and the defense moved for dismissal.
Smith praised the dismissal of charges.
“I think that — the course that the court has chosen to take is a good one at this point,” Smith said. “Mainly I’m pleased by the number of folks that supported us.”
Proto said before the hearing that he would not accept having charges against him nolled. Nolled charges may be refiled within 13 months.
“We believe that we should have these [charges] dismissed,” Proto said.
Defense co-counsel Tara Knight said each dismissal was “equivalent to an acquittal.”
Attorney Hugh Keefe, who represented the union supporters with Knight, requested the court first hear national labor leaders’ cases because they had flights to catch, he said.
Charges were dismissed against Sweeney; Transport Workers Union of America President Sonny Hall; Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olson; Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees Executive Vice President William Lee and UNITE Secretary-Treasurer Edgar Romney.
After the court heard the leaders’ cases, the remaining defendants were called up one at a time in alphabetical order.
The court proceeded to dismiss charges against all defendants facing only one disorderly conduct charge. Graduate Employees and Students Organization Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 was one such defendant.
Disorderly conduct charges were dismissed against more union supporters Oct. 31, Nov. 7,and Nov. 13. Keefe, who said more than 200 cases against union supporters were dismissed on Thursday and Friday, said more charges had been dismissed on those days than in the entire previous history of the courthouse.