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Throng of Occupy protesters appear in NY courts

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 11:41 a.m. MST

Hero Vincent, second from right, an early protester in the Occupy Wall Street movement, listens as Judith Anderson, left, a lawyer working with the National Lawyers Guild, records information about him as he stands on line outside Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 in New York. Protesters are answering summons stemming from their mass arrest during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge last October.

Bebet Matthews, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Nearly 200 people arrested during Occupy Wall Street-related protests were in New York courtrooms hundreds of miles apart Wednesday, answering charges that stemmed from a march on the Brooklyn Bridge and a demonstration in a Rochester park.

In Manhattan, arraignments were under way for 166 people, most of them among the more than 700 picked up in an Oct. 1 march that marked the biggest mass arrest of the New York protest so far. Hundreds of other protesters arrested on the bridge and during other Occupy demonstrations in the city have already been to court, but this week's numbers are some of the biggest.

Meanwhile, 28 Occupy Wall Street supporters were set to appear in a Rochester court on charges of trespassing by staying in a park past its curfew.

Some wearing their Occupy Wall Street allegiance on buttons — and in one case, a hand-painted oxford shirt — lined hallways and an overflow courtroom in a Manhattan courthouse that handles low-level offenses. Many had been arrested on the bridge after police said protesters ignored warnings not to leave a pedestrian path and go onto the roadway.

The demonstrators were generally charged with disorderly conduct and blocking traffic, both violations. Many took a judge's offer Wednesday to get their cases dismissed if they avoid getting arrested again for six months.

That made sense to Mark Pruce, who'd gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to get to court from his home in rural Millerton, N.Y., about 100 miles and $45 in trains and subways away.

Like many others arrested, he said he hadn't heard any police warnings and thought officers were letting the demonstrators go onto the road. But the freelance graphic and web designer, 24, said it would be difficult for him to return to court repeatedly to fight the case.

Some others told Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross they wanted trials.

Amanda Geraci, 29, said it would be a pain to come back to court from her home in Philadelphia. But she turned down the dismissal deal, partly because she didn't like the condition of staying out of trouble for six months.

"I'm not going to have something over my head from a justice system I didn't do anything wrong against," she said after court.

Over the nearly three months since Occupy Wall Street began, New York City police have arrested more than 1,200 people in connection with the demonstration. Besides those arraigned Wednesday, about 170 more have court dates later this week.

They, too, will appear before Ross, a veteran of prominent protest cases. In 2006, he acquitted 18 members of an activist group called the Granny Peace Brigade of disorderly conduct charges stemming from an anti-Iraq War protest outside the Times Square military recruiting station. He said the evidence showed they hadn't blocked foot traffic or kept anyone from going in.

The demonstrators due in court in Rochester were among 48 arrested in a small downtown park. Their arrests were the first of Occupy supporters in upstate New York's major cities.

They were accused of trespassing by staying in Washington Square Park after hours. But since the arrests, Mayor Tom Richards has shifted direction to let Occupy Rochester protest round the clock there. About 35 tents have since sprung up.

Protesters say Rochester is now the only city in New York to provide a legal basis for an Occupy encampment.

It was unclear whether the trespassing charges would be dropped at a Wednesday afternoon hearing in City Court.

Dobbin reported from Rochester, N.Y.

Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz

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