FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 5, 2019
Ken Ward, defendant
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Alice Cherry, attorney, Climate Defense Project
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Lauren Regan, attorney, Civil Liberties Defense Center
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Olympia, Washington - Yesterday, a three judge panel of the Washington Supreme Court unanimously denied a petition by the State of Washington, Skagit County, to review the April 8, 2019 Washington Court of Appeals decision overturning the conviction of Ken Ward for burglary in the second degree. The charges in the case stemmed from Ward's October 11, 2016 action shutting down the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Skagit County, as part of the multi-state “Shut It Down” climate action.
“This is just great!” said Ward after hearing the news, “I’ve said all along that I relish the chance to put the facts about climate catastrophe before a jury in Skagit County. I think that any reasonable group of citizens will agree that actions like the ‘Valve Turners’ are necessary if we’re to have any hope of avoiding the worst, given the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on politics, and the speed of collapse.”
In two separate trials on felony charges of sabotage and burglary, in January and June, 2017, Ward was denied the common law necessity defense, which would have permitted him to argue that the harm caused by shutting the Kinder Morgan pipeline valve was justified by the far greater harm of imminent, catastrophic climate change. Ward was retried on the same charges after a jury hung - that is, failed to reach a decision - in the first trial.
Alice Cherry, of the Climate Defense Project, an attorney for Ward, said that “the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision not to disturb the ruling from the Court of Appeals is a victory for free expression and dissent in the State of Washington. It creates a strong legal basis for climate protesters to justify their actions in a court of law, and to defend themselves against prosecutorial overreach. This is significant, given that the fossil fuel industry is increasingly attempting to squelch public opposition to its expansion projects.”
The Supreme Court decision makes Washington the first state to affirmatively recognize the right of a climate activist to offer the necessity defense at trial.
"This victory upholds the right of a defendant to assert the necessity defense to the charges brought by the State, and also strengthens the essential role that a jury of community members will play in determining whether the accused should be found guilty or not," said Lauren Regan, attorney for Ken Ward, and Director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
Following conviction on one count of burglary at his second trial (with all other counts at both trials resulting in a hung jury), Ward appealed his conviction solely on the grounds that he was denied the only defense available to him, and was prevented from calling defense witnesses, included renowned experts Eric de Place, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Richard Gammon, Celia Bitz, and Martin Gilens to support his claim of necessity. The Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the trial court's decision to exclude the necessity defense had violated Ward's Sixth Amendment right to a complete defense.
Ward’s action in Skagit County, WA was part of a coordinated climate action against all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands oil into the United States, which Reuters reported “shook the North American energy industry,” and resulted in multiple charges against the five “Valve Turners,” including Ward, Michael Foster, Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and Leonard Higgins, along with several supporters and videographers. Higgins and Foster were both convicted on felony charges for their roles, with Foster spending six months in a North Dakota prison. Charges against Johnston and Klapstein were dropped when a Minnesota judge found the prosecution's evidence insufficient to support a conviction.
The Civil Liberties Defense Center, Ralph Hurvitz, and Climate Defense Project represented Ward at trial and during the appellate process.