Occupy Wall St. protesters' rights in good hands as legal minds step up to offer their support

Occupy Wall St. protesters' rights in good hands as legal minds step up to offer their support

Christina Boyle
New York Daily News
Thu, 10/20/2011

Hundreds of attorneys, law students and other legal minds are volunteering their skills to protect the rights of protesters in the Occupy movement, according to the National Lawyers Guild.

In New York alone, dozens of people have stepped forward to act as legal observers at marches in the past month. They don luminous green hats at rallies and document the names of those arrested in confrontations with the NYPD, and they also can be found in court.

The New York City chapter of the Lawyers Guild has about a dozen pro bono lawyers working on cases. At least 50 more attorneys are on standby if the caseload becomes overwhelming, said defense attorney Marty Stolar, who represents several protesters.

In an unprecedented move, some unions have even offered up their inhouse legal experts to help the movement.

"That is something I've never seen before," Stolar said. "The number of volunteers has increased as time has gone on, and we've trained so many [legal observers] we ran out of green hats."

Volunteer lawyers have stepped up from across the country. The National Lawyers Guild estimates it is one of the largest legal support efforts for protesters since the end of the Vietnam War. The group has deployed legal experts to more than 50 cities.

Occupy Wall Street differs from other mass protests, such as the 2004 Republican National Convention, in which 1,800 people were arrested, because it is largely spontaneous and harder to predict where the next protest will be.

"Occupy Wall Street is different in that respect," said Gideon Oliver, of the National Lawyers Guild's New York City Chapter. "But we've been able to provide lawyers for anyone who has been arrested and appeared in court."