Sutter planning to march with environmental activists at UN’s climate change meeting in New York City
From The Herald News
By Brian Fraga
FALL RIVER — Climate change is a public safety issue, says Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter, who will march with environmental activists this Sunday in New York City while the United Nations holds an international summit on climate change.
Sutter will also be attending seminars and meetings with climate change advocates, including the environmentalist, activist and author Bill McKibben.
“It’s going to be a very full weekend,” said Sutter, who has received substantial coverage from several national media outlets — including National Public Radio, The New York Times, Fox Business News and the Huffington Post among others — for his decision on Sept. 8 to drop criminal charges against two environmental activists who used an old lobster boat to block a coal shipment to Somerset’s Brayton Point Power Station in May 2013.
Most of the national media commentary has been positive toward Sutter, who is currently running unopposed for his third-term as district attorney and has indicated that he is open to running for higher office. Sutter said he was surprised by the media coverage, and added the district attorney’s office is taking a “leadership role” on the climate change issue, which he argued is not outside the scope of his office.
“I fervently believe in the cause of this country doing much more to stem the increasing pressures of climate change, and as far as my motivation for going to New York, I want to learn more so that I and my office can take a leadership role,” Sutter said. “Certainly, there are actions we can take, I think, within the office on such matters as recycling, energy conservation and we’ve already started that. And I think there are stands that I can take and actions I can take outside of the office, and those will be determined in the future.”
Sutter said he agreed with the views of Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara, the environmental activists who were prepared for a three-day trial last week in Fall River District Court, where they would invoke a “necessity defense,” their position being that the immediate crisis of global warming demanded drastic action. They said that they were prepared to put “coal on trial,” but whether or not the judge would have allowed them to use the necessity defense, or to call upon expert environmental witnesses to testify about climate change, remains unknown.
It is also unclear whether Judge Joseph Macy would have permitted the jury instructions to include the necessity defense. If the high-profile trial had moved forward, amid the media coverage it would have generated, prosecutors could have found themselves arguing against the necessity defense from being presented to the jury.
“That would have been a very awkward position for me because I believe in their viewpoint, and yet I have a duty in the courtroom to uphold the law,” said Sutter, who after discussions with his prosecutors, decided to resolve the case by dismissing a conspiracy charge and reducing three other criminal charges to civil offenses. As part of the agreement, Ward and O’Hara each agreed to pay $2,000 to cover the overtime expenses incurred by the Somerset Police Department and Massachusetts State Police.
Sutter said his decision “delivered accountability,” reimbursed taxpayers, saved money by avoiding a three-day trial and followed a state legislative commission’s recommendation that district attorneys reduce misdemeanor offenses that do not involve jail time to civil infractions.
“From my point of view, it was a very prudent, sensible idea that met the many concerns I had,” Sutter said.
Not everyone agreed. Editorials in The Wall Street Journal and Boston Herald described Sutter’s move as a “blatantly political” abuse of prosecutorial discretion, driven more by ideology and personal ambition than justice. Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist at the Boston Globe, wrote that the district attorney’s “behavior was worse than disgraceful,” and said Sutter went beyond “ethical bounds” by letting O’Hara and Ward off the hook because he agreed with their political views.
Sutter called the criticism “misplaced” and said that some of those same critics have previously praised him for “conservative” actions he has taken as district attorney that include arguing for pretrial detentions for almost anyone charged with a gun felony in Bristol County and for reinstituting court-ordered wiretap investigations after a 16-year absence.
Sutter said he was not “grandstanding” when he walked outside the Fall River Justice Center — holding a copy of a climate change article McKibben wrote in Rolling Stone magazine — and delivered a statement before reporters and a large crowd of cheering environmental activists who had shown up at the courthouse to support O’Hara and Ward. At one point, Sutter held up the magazine and said, “How do you like that? So you know where my heart is.”
Sutter said he was not acting out of political expediency.
“I felt it was important to explain myself, and that’s all I was trying to do when I left the (courthouse),” Sutter said. “I was simply going to explain to the media why I did what I did, and as sometimes happens with events, it took off after that.”
The activists who were at the courthouse that day praised Sutter for staking out a leadership position on climate change. Rather than political expediency, they say he is demonstrating courage where other politicians have acquiesced to powerful moneyed interests.
“I would say that what Sam Sutter did was actually take a stand for what he thought was in the best interest of the people and took a risk. An act of political expediency usually doesn’t take a risk,” said Maura Marcum, director of programs for the Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that helped organize the large turnout of environmental activists in Fall River.
“We need more leaders like him. He’s speaking truth to power, and that is what we need,” said Diane Turco, a co-founder of Cape Downwinders, a nonprofit that speaks out against the possible safety risks of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth. Turco said Sutter has invited her group to Bristol County to educate residents here about the hazards that the nuclear plant poses to residents on Cape Cod, the Islands and southeastern Massachusetts.
“Sam’s been great on the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station,” Turco said.
In his unsuccessful run for Congress in 2012, Sutter said the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station needed to be made safer. In the past year, based on what he described was further reading and research, Sutter has publicly called for closing the nuclear power plant. Sutter, a Fall River resident, also noted that the Spindle City’s inhabitants live across the bay from the Brayton Point Power Station, which is said to be the top coal-burning plant in the Northeast. Sutter added that the American Lung Association has given an “F” rating to the air quality in Bristol County.
“It’s a public safety issue, just as the closing of the power plant at Pilgrim Nuclear is a public safety issue,” Sutter said. “Because if a disaster like Fukushima happens at that nuclear power plant, where is the fallout going to go? It’s going to head down the Cape, it’s going to head toward Bristol County.”
Over the past 25 years, as a scientific consensus has concluded that the Earth’s climate is warming and that human activity is a contributing factor, Sutter said that he and many other people have come to believe that the planet has reached a “crisis point.” His decision to drop criminal charges against O’Hara and Ward, Sutter said, was prudent and bold in the same manner that his office has tackled gun violence and other initiatives since he became district attorney in 2007.
“I obviously believe in bold action,” Sutter said.
Original article: http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20140919/NEWS/140915484?Start=3