Defiant nuns expected jail, get case dismissal 2 Catholic peace activists refused to pay court costs

January 17, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

A Howard district judge yesterday dismissed a case against two Dominican nuns who refused to pay court costs for their conviction of trespassing at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

But Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, peace activists from Baltimore, were arrested hours later in front of the White House during a protest on the plight of Iraqi children since Desert Storm.

The pair had thought they would be sent to jail by Howard District Judge James N. Vaughan and brought extra clothes and reading materials.

They were ordered back because they defied an order to pay $50 in court costs after being convicted of trespassing at APL in North Laurel. The charge stemmed from their distribution of anti-war leaflets there. They remained defiant yesterday.

"I am a Roman Catholic sister. I have no ownership of anything. I have no resources of my own," Sister Ardeth told the judge. "Even if I did have resources, I don't believe in funding the courts."

But to the nuns' surprise, Judge Vaughan did not send them to jail. He ended the session quickly, without fanfare.

"You don't believe in funding the courts, did you say?" he asked. "I suspect there are a lot of people who feel as you do, including the legislature. You're free to go."

Each woman had served a 30-day term at the Howard County Detention Center after being convicted Sept. 26 of trespassing at APL, where they handed out leaflets at a May 24 protest.

The nuns, members of the Baltimore Emergency Response Network (BERN), insisted that they had a right to distribute leaflets. They said that, although APL is a private facility, it should be public because most of its funding comes from the federal government.

Dee Reese, an APL spokeswoman, said the facility projects about $390 million in contracts this year, most of which will come from the Navy.

Ms. Reese said protesters have targeted APL since at least 1975 and perhaps as early as the late 1960s. She said officials once allowed peaceful demonstrations but tightened restrictions because the protests became more aggressive over the years.

BERN members climbed atop a building and water tower to unfurl anti-military banners in 1992. Another time, protesters broke into executive offices and poured a red liquid to symbolize blood.

Before leaving the court building at about 11:30 yesterday morning, Sisters Ardeth and Carol said they were heading to Washington to express concern for thousands of dying Iraqi children.

They were arrested with five other people by U.S. Park Police at 1:13 p.m. and charged with demonstrating in front of the White House without a permit. They were held for about two hours and released, an official said.

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