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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Occupy Pittsburgh to survive into 2012

Posted by on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Break out the champagne and the funny hats: Occupy Pittsburgh will remain on Mellon Green through New Year's.

Earlier this month, BNY Mellon -- which owns the Downtown parklet where Occupiers have been since Oct. 15 -- began legal proceedings to have the Occupation evicted. This morning, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward held a "status conference" -- an administrative meeting between the judge and attorneys in a case -- to set out a timeline for handling the dispute.

During the conference, attorneys agreed to hold a full hearing -- where arguments and testimony can be presented -- on Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. The Occupiers will be allowed to remain on the Green pending that hearing -- and perhaps after it.

Mellon is seeking a preliminary injunction to remove the protesters; such an injunction asks a judge to take immediate action pending a future ruling on the merits of a case. As such, a judge must feel that a plaintiff's case is very likely to succeed, and that the plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm if action is delayed until the legal process plays out. It would be possible, in other words, for Ward to deny the injunction, but ultimately rule in Mellon's favor after further legal action.

During today's conference, Ward noted for the record that she knew Daniel Booker, the Reed Smith attorney representing BNY Mellon, socially. She also acknowledged knowing Jules Lobel, the University of Pittsburgh law professor who is one of four attorneys representing Occupy Pittsburgh. (Oddly, Occupy's legal team outnumbered the two attorneys on hand for BNY Mellon.)

Ward, who typically handles highly complex commercial litigation, also addressed the courtroom at the end of the conference. She told attendees she was "aware of the passion that everyone has for their individual causes," but asserted that within the courtroom, respect for the law was the only passion she followed.

Outside the courtroom, on the Grant Street sidewalk before the City County Building, Occupiers struck a defiant note. During an impromptu picket, more than a dozen Occupiers circled the sidewalk, holding signs and chanting. "I don't know but I been told, Mellon Bank ain't got no soul," one chant began.

"The same banks that would like to remove Occupy Pittsburgh are pushing good families from their homes," Occupier Celeste Taylor told and ensuing press conference and rally.

"We're here to tell BNY Mellon that you can't evict an idea," added Jeff Cech. "We're not going anywhere."

Not everyone was impressed. "Get a job!" shouted a passing motorist.

"Got two!" a demonstrator shouted back.

Mike Healey, one of the attorneys representing Occupy, said that there had been no discussions with Mellon about settling the dispute out of court.

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