The Federal Government's long-drawn campaign of harassment against Allison Lance Watson has finally concluded with a happy ending. Allison will not be jailed, and the government has agreed to not bring her before a Grand Jury on these matters ever again.
On Thursday, December 16, U.S. Magistrate Judge Monica Benton sentenced Allison to two years probation and imposed a $5,000 fine on the petty offense of "contempt of court."
The prosecution was demanding five months imprisonment, but in the end she has been sentenced on a petty offense only and she will not have to do jail time.
Her previous charges of felony perjury before a Grand Jury were dropped without prejudice by the Federal Attorney's office.
Allison pleaded guilty to a non-felony contempt charge after refusing to answer questions to a Federal Grand Jury about people she knows in the animal rights movement.
The Federal prosecutor's office stated from the beginning that Allison Lance Watson was not a suspect in a crime nor was she ever under investigation for a crime. She was ordered before a Federal Grand Jury to obtain testimony about people she knew. Allison initially was not concerned with the charges but she was concerned that she was being forced to testify before a Grand Jury without the right to legal counsel and she was concerned that she was targeted because of her associations.
When she refused to cooperate, Federal Attorney Andrew Friedman charged Allison with "felony perjury" and threatened her with up to five years imprisonment.
Allison's lawyer Angelo Calfo took the position that the Federal Grand Jury had set-up a perjury trap for Allison. When Calfo requested transcripts from the Grand Jury hearings, he discovered that the transcripts had been destroyed. When Calfo was given a court ruling to depose the Federal prosecutor's office and the Grand Jurors, Friedman dropped the perjury charges and agreed to allow Allison to plead guilty to "contempt" as a petty offense with the maximum penalty of six months in prison.
Judge Benton, an African-American woman, made comparisons between the animal rights movement and the civil rights movement before ruling that Allison would be fined and placed on probation but that she would not be imprisoned.
The maximum fine was imposed because one of the defendants, Gina Lynn, had admitted to the Grand Jury that she had released chickens from a chicken farm. This made it appear that Allison had willfully attempted to cover for Lynn.
Additionally, discoveries made available to Allison were posted to websites, and these discoveries made public the name of one person, Geoff Kerns, who had given information to the Grand Jury. Although no one has threatened Kerns, a statement to the Grand Jury by Kerns that "snitches get stitches" implied that he could be targeted. Allison Lance Watson has never met nor heard of Kerns, but the implication was that her release of discoveries posed a threat to a cooperative witness. This despite the fact that Allison was never told or advised that she could not make the discoveries available publicly.
Allison was also punished for releasing and saving the lives of 15 dolphins in Japan in November 2003. Judge Benton questioned her on this action. The prosecution had intentionally misrepresented the 23 days that Allison had spent in jail in Japan as a sentence that she had served. Angelo Calfo explained that she was held for that time before being charged as it is customary in Japan to hold accused persons up to three weeks before allowing them access to a lawyer and before laying charges. He explained that she had not been sentenced to time in Japan despite the mispresentation by the prosecution.
Judge Benton asked Allison if she knew she was breaking the law when she cut the net and freed the dolphins. Allison said her eyes were open to the consequences but she said that the horrific slaughter of these animals was overwhelming and that it was choice between breaking the law and doing nothing in the face of an impending mass slaughter of dolphins.
Judge Benton said that Allison's willful disregard for Japanese law in saving the lives of the dolphins was a factor in imposing the fine. Ironically, Allison paid a $5,000 fine in Japan for saving dolphins, and this decision by Judge Benton essentially amounts to a second $5,000 fine by an American court for the same offense.
The Federal investigation has centered on two incidents. The first is the release of chickens from a chicken farm in Washington State, and the second is an alleged arson of a logging company facility also in Washington. Gina Lynn has admitted to being involved with the chicken release but denied any involvement with the arson. In fact, the arson is widely believed to have been an insurance job by the owner of the logging company because of the fact that a group called "Revenge of the Trees" that claimed credit for the attack is one that no one in the movement has heard of. According to one activist, "It is not uncommon for people to use the ALF and the ELF as covers for insurance scams. First, because the Feds want to believe that these are domestic terrorist attacks, and secondly, because few questions are asked of the so-called victims."
Allison is, of course, quite relieved to have this long four year prosecution behind her. She is grateful to all those who contributed to her defense fund. The result of this support is that she was able to receive the first class legal representation of Angelo Calfo. She is also grateful to all those who wrote letters of support to the judge prior to sentencing.
Despite contributions to her defense fund, Allison had to personally incur a debt of over $75,000 towards legal fees. But she has no regrets. "I stood on the principle that Grand Juries must be opposed and that every citizen has a right to legal representation and the right of free association. We fought back with a strong legal defense to support this principle. Citizens of a free society must be prepared to sacrifice and take risks to preserve freedom and to defend the movements to protect animals and the environment. These movements are deserving of our full commitment. In the end, I walked out of that court room having betrayed neither my friends, my ideals, the animals, nor the environment. I refused to participate in a political witch-hunt and my conscience is clear. I would have been at peace with the consequences, no matter what the penalty."
Allison represented all of us in representing herself.
Her only obstacle now, in addition to paying off the debt for legal fees - is to raise the funds needed to pay off the $5,000 fine. Your help would be gratefully received.
Donations towards the payment of this fine can be sent to:
Allison Lance Watson
P.O. Box 3241
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The following is the article on the judgment in the Seattle Post Intelligencer
Dec. 17, 2004 Activist for animal rights is fined and put on probation.
Watson refused to answer grand jury questions.
By PAUL SHUKOVSKY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
A U.S. magistrate judge sentenced a well-known animal rights activist to probation yesterday on a misdemeanor contempt-of-court charge for failing to answers questions before a grand jury investigating the firebombing of an Olympia forest-product company.
The case of Allison Lance Watson provides a rare glimpse of the cat-and-mouse game between the federal investigators looking into acts they deem to be "domestic terrorism" committed in the name of animals and the environment, and the activists with deeply held convictions.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Monica Benton put Watson, a staff member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and wife of its president and founder, Paul Watson, on probation for two years and ordered her to pay a $5,000 fine for refusing to answer grand jury questions in September.
It could have been much worse for Watson.
She was initially charged with four felony counts of perjury for allegedly lying in her testimony about whether an activist friend -- considered by the FBI to be a suspect in the May 2000 firebombing -- had used a truck Watson had rented. Agents believe the truck was used in the arson attack and in a release that same night of 228 chickens from a Skagit County farm.
Watson could have been sentenced to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the felony perjury counts.
But the U.S. Attorney's Office dropped the perjury charges in September when it became known that a secretary in the office had inadvertently destroyed grand jury transcripts that Watson's attorney, Angelo Calfo, had sought to defend his client.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman, who asked yesterday that Watson be sentenced to five months in prison, sought to portray her as doing everything possible to obstruct the grand jury investigation, including lying about knowing a key suspect in the case with whom she had long telephone conversations shortly after testifying.
"Mrs. Watson ... clearly did not tell the truth about what's going on," Friedman told the judge. "Mrs. Watson has done everything she can to thwart that investigation."
Friedman asserted that Watson would answer simple questions with challenging retorts. Asked, for example, whether she had lunch with someone, she would ask that a prosecutor prove she had lunch with that person.
"Our system of justice is a victim of what she has done," said Friedman, who told Benton that "a message needs to be sent to others in the animal rights movement that if you flout orders to testify before the grand jury, you will be punished."
But Calfo told Benton: "We, as citizens, don't have an obligation to walk into the grand jury and sing like a canary. It's the prosecution's obligation to ask the questions and get the answers."
Calfo noted that one of the suspects Watson was questioned about, Gina Lynn, is "her best friend. She was hesitant to provide fulsome answers. But she didn't lie."
Before pronouncing sentence, Benton sought to understand where Watson belongs in the broad spectrum of animal rights groups that range from lawful protests to firebombing, which is advocated by such groups as the Animal Liberation Front.
She asked about an instance in the waters off Japan where Watson cut a fishing net that threatened to entrap 15 bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. She was arrested and detained by Japanese police for about three weeks.
Said Watson: "I go into everything with my eyes open. I could lose my life or be thrown in jail. The horrific slaughter of those animals was just overwhelming to me -- so I didn't care" (about the consequences).
For Watson, the consequences of refusing to answer grand jury questions will mean supervision from the U.S. Probation Department for two years. She must get approval from her probation officer for any trips overseas involving animal rights actions or demonstrations. And if she commits a crime, she could be returned to court and sentenced to six months in prison.