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"Equality Nine" trial postponed due to dismissal of gay juror

SAN DIEGO -- Superior Court Judge Joan Weber adjourned proceedings in the "Equality Nine" trial Tuesday morning, saying that prosecutors violated the defendants rights by dismissing a potential juror because he is gay. Jury selection took place on Monday.

California has banned jury discrimination based on sexual orientation, but most states do not, according to an article by Andy Birkey of The American Independent that was published today by SDGLN.

The Equality Nine are a group of nine activists who were arrested on Aug. 19, 2010 after staging a sit-in at the San Diego County Administration Building to express their support of marriage equality. Proposition 8 had been ruled unconstitutional on Aug. 4, 2010, and Aug. 19 was the date that marriages were supposed to resume in California, but the appeals court issued a stay to prevent that.

The "Equality Nine" trial date has now been pushed back to Sept. 18.

While the prosecution, represented by Assistant City Attorney Dan Rawlins, maintains that the case is not about Proposition 8 or discrimination against LGBT couples, Judge Weber said that prosecutors improperly introduced bias when they dismissed all openly gay potential jurors from the jury panel.

According to UT San Diego, prosecutors disagreed with Weber’s ruling. They said the potential juror indicated in a questionnaire that he had protested in support of gay rights issues in the past. Based on that, and other answers, the prosecutors determined he was not a suitable juror for this case, they said.

Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jones told UT San Diego outside the courtroom Tuesday that the case focuses on whether the six defendants who remain charged in the case unlawfully blocked the operation of the County Clerk’s Office during the protest.

“That's all that this is about,” Jones said. “It has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.”

Hugh Moore, a community member who was present at the hearing on Tuesday, disagrees with the City Attorney's Office.

“The only way for the city attorney to get a conviction in this case in San Diego would be to use an unfair jury and that's what they tried to do," Moore said.

The Equality Nine's attorneys believe that the prosecution purposefully excluded gay people from the jury pool. The defense lawyers raised motions after the prosecution challenged the selection of two potential jurors, both of whom had identified themselves as gay.

“Not only were the rights of these people trampled when the county sheriffs interrupted their legal protest, they were harassed when the city charged them with over-exaggerated crimes, but then again during trial when their civil rights were violated by the prosecution when they were not allowed a fair jury” said Rachel Scoma, co-executive director of Canvass for a Cause, who is familiar with the case.

Those involved with the case believe that this action will likely require a complete restart of the jury selection process.

"This incident marks a serious error on the part of the prosecution who has already received copious criticism its insistence that the City of San Diego pay for a criminal trial to take place," Equality Nine activists said. "This issue was not lost on the initial jury. Experienced members of the defense staff and the judge herself remarked about the unusually high number of potential jurors who said this was a waste of city resources."

“I’ve never had so many jurors express concerns about why a prosecutor’s office would move forward and spend time and money on a case of this nature,” Weber said.

The San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME), which is an LGBT activist organization that has worked to support the Equality Nine, will hold its next meeting at 6:30pm Tuesday, May 8, at the office of San Diego LGBT Pride, 3620 30th St. in North Park. Activists will discuss next steps for the group.