Animal Rights Activist Found in Civil Contempt for Refusing to Testify before Federal Grand Jury
San Francisco federal judge Susan Illston stayed her contempt order for two weeks pending filing of Ninth Circuit appeal
San Francisco, CA -- Animal rights activist Nadia Winstead was found in civil contempt today by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston for invoking her constitutional rights and refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. Winstead's attorney, Mark Goldrosen, immediately requested that Winstead be released on her own recognizance pending an appeal that will be filed with the Ninth Circuit Court. Instead, judge Illston stayed enforcement of the contempt order for two weeks to allow Winstead to file the appeal.
The ruling came after activists gathered in front of the federal courthouse to rally against the use of grand juries as a tactic by government to suppress dissent. Normally, grand jury proceedings are secret and closed to the public, but a crowded courtroom of supporters were able to observe Winstead defend herself, as is her right, against the federal government's charge of civil contempt. Winstead had previously been denied a motion to compel the government to reveal whether unlawful electronic surveillance was used to obtain information included in her subpoena.
"The tactic of using grand juries to intimidate movements for social change has a long history in the United States," said Samantha Levens of the Grand Jury Resistance Project, a coalition in support of targeted activists. "It remains important today to shine a bright light on the efforts by the government to intimidate and jail committed activists."
The current grand jury, to which at least two activists have been subpoenaed, is the second grand jury within two years investigating the same matter: the "possible concealment" of a suspect being sought in connection with two actions from 2003 aimed at local pharmaceutical companies with ties to Huntingdon Life Sciences, an animal-testing lab that is the target of an international animal rights campaign. In the first grand jury in 2005, eleven activists, including Winstead, were subpoenaed. At the time, Winstead and others refused to testify.
Independent journalist Josh Wolf remains in jail as a result of a civil contempt ruling after he refused to provide unpublished video footage of a July 2005 anti-G8 protest to a federal grand jury in San Francisco. After losing his appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court, Wolf has remained in prison since September 22. The federal grand jury to which Wolf was subpoenaed convened in early 2006 to investigate alleged damage to a police car that supposedly occurred during the protests. Wolf could be imprisoned until July 2007.
Information compiled by the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), a coalition that provides education on politically motivated attacks by government and support to people targeted by these attacks, shows that grand juries are currently being used against environmental and animal rights activists, as well as groups that have historically struggled for self-determination. The GJRP reports that in the past year, at least 66 individuals have been subpoenaed or indicted in Atlanta, Denver, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa and Trenton. At least fourteen people have refused to testify before recent grand juries, and some were jailed for contempt. The GJRP believes that these grand juries are part of the same broad and unconstitutional federal investigation into various political movements that oppose U.S. policies.