Nearly all jury trials for the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters have been canceled and are in the process of being rescheduled, according to Trial Court Administrator Donna Wunderlich.
Wunderlich said the decision came after judges met with court administration in December and realized there were not enough courtrooms and calendar space to hold the trials as originally planned.
“Our calendar is designed to handle a routine number of trials,” Wunderlich said. “We were scheduling more trials than the Morton County Courthouse could accommodate.”
Wunderlich said some trials had been scheduled too quickly, not allowing time for discovery and motions. Others were out-of-order, meaning some trials from October arrests might have been scheduled before August ones.
Judges have been joining cases so there will not be separate trials for each of the 584 arrests made. Most joined cases involve people arrested on the same day.
Trials from August arrests that were scheduled for December are being rebooked for February, Wunderlich said.
"Our trial schedule is being adjusted to make sure our oldest cases go to trial first and we make the best use of our jury courtrooms," Wunderlich said. “We decided it was in the best interest of everyone."
Sandra Freeman, criminal case coordinator for the Water Protector Legal Collective, a group that is supporting the protesters, said the rescheduling is causing problems not seen by the courts.
Many people had scheduled flights across the country for January trials that are now postponed, she said.
She also was critical of the generic notice, which was entered into the cases with no judge's signature, public announcement or opportunity for attorneys to respond with speedy trial-type issues.
"Bananas," Freeman said. "They didn't allow any attorney input on any of that. There was no opportunity for anyone to be heard."
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