Ben Leynse/Sun Staff Writer

Demonstrators pose with their court orders to appear before Ithaca City Court before the hearing.

April 17, 2024

Day Hall Protestors Trespassing Charges to Be Dropped May 16 After Agreement with D.A.’s Office

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The 24 Cornell students and staff members arrested for trespassing at a March 21st pro-divestment Day Hall occupation will see their charges expire on May 16 — provided that they are not arrested again before that date — after an agreement was reached with the District Attorney’s office at Ithaca City Court. They will not have to reappear in court.

In the law, the deal the demonstrators reached with the District Attorney’s office is called an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD.

The Wednesday, April 17 court hearing began at 9 a.m. at the Ithaca City Court, presided over by Judge Seth J. Peacock J.D. ’01. 23 of the 24 arrested demonstrators were present at the hearing, including 21 students and two staff members. Prior to the hearing, approximately 100 students and Ithaca community members gathered outside the city court in a solidarity rally.

While the demonstrators were originally scheduled to appear during spring break, the attorney for the demonstrators, Prof. Lance Salisbury M.R.P. ’92 J.D. ’96, worked with the court to arrange a later date, Salisbury told The Sun.

The one student not in attendance missed the hearing due to personal scheduling issues, but will also agree to the ACD at a rescheduled May 1st 9 a.m. court hearing, Salisbury told The Sun.

As the proceedings began at 9 a.m., the defendants and their attorney stepped out of the courtroom to discuss the course of action. The demonstrators ultimately came to the consensus of pursuing the ACD, as opposed to trying to contest by raising a motion to dissent the charges or pursuing a trial.

While ACDs typically require six months with no arrests before the charge expires, the shortened period was scheduled to align with the end of the spring semester. Salisbury explained that the ACD and filing motions would result in the same verdict of dropped charges, but with the reduced ACD timeline, it would actually result in a quicker drop of charges.

Around 10:30 a.m., Salisbury gave Peacock an overview of the sit-in. Salisbury explained that the sit-in was a nonviolent exercise of the students’ First Amendment rights, referencing similar peaceful sit-ins on campus across the country.  

The Coalition for Mutual Liberation, a pro-Palestine coalition of over 40 organizations, staged the 24-member Day Hall occupation during a Board of Trustees meeting. Protesters refused to leave until President Martha Pollack agreed to call a vote of the Board of Trustees to divest from arms suppliers and defense companies.

Campus staff honored a request from the trustees to allow protestors to stay in the building without repercussions until 6 p.m., 45 minutes after the normal 5:15 p.m. Day Hall closing time. As they approached the extended 6 p.m. deadline, the protestors ignored warnings from campus staff and the Cornell University Police Department emphasizing the building’s closure, prompting police to remove demonstrators from the lobby.

Heidi Paulino, assistant district attorney, explained that the District Attorney’s office considered public policy, first-amendment rights and the rights of private property owners when deciding a proposal option to the defendants. 

The defendants were called to the stand one at a time. All present defendants entered a plea of not guilty, accepting the ACD.

Demonstrator Michael Margolin, a part-time Cornell employee, described that the ACD was ideal because it means they could “continue [their] work quite soon” in an interview with The Sun.

“So my understanding of an ACD is that I have to sort of be careful what I do — in terms of civil disobedience — in Ithaca in particular, for the next month,” Margolin said. “Things are too important right now in the world, things are too horrible to wait too long, so I’m glad on May 17, I’ll be able to continue.”

Salisbury explained that this courtesy was offered to the defendants with the recognition that the sit-in was a form of non-violent dissent, which “has a long tradition in the United States” and “is one of our most important rights.”

“I think both my program [and] I think the District Attorney’s office, we both recognize — for both of us in terms of an institutional approach — it doesn’t really matter to us what the dissent is,” Salisbury said. “We recognize if people are engaged in the right to dissent and exercising their First Amendment rights — to put it into words, it’s peaceful, non-violent dissent — at least in this county, we try to recognize that right and respect it.” 

Salisbury explained that the one-month option was also given to respect students’ summer plans, resolving the arrests before some of the defendants left Ithaca after the end of the semester. 

Defendant Hasham Khan ’26 accepted the ACD, but was also scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday for a separate charge of non-intentional, reckless property damage, for which he could owe Cornell $670.95. Khan is now scheduled to reappear in court for this charge at 9 a.m. on May 1.

Khan declined to comment to The Sun.

In addition to the trespassing charges, the 22 students were referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for breaching the Student Code of Conduct and two employees were referred to Human Resources for violating University policy, according to a statement written by Joel Malina, vice president for University relations.

Margolin said that he had a positive conversation with a member of Human Resources, who has not yet decided on any University action against him.

“They have a decision, I think, about what my opinion [is and] what their reputation is [and] how it’s going to be affected [by] whether they keep me as a staff member and how that will look for them,” Margolin said. “And my opinion [is that] the great thing would be to keep me as a staff member, so that they can have an example of someone who stands up for justice on campus.”