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Demonstrators from the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality, joined by supporters from the Occupy San Diego group encamped nearby, converged yesterday on the San Diego County Courthouse yesterday. The group rallied before a pretrial hearing for a group dubbed the “Equality 9,” arrested last year for refusing to leave the county clerk’s office after being denied marriage licenses.

Last month a group of supporters gathered to deliver a petition containing about 2,500 signatures to the city attorney’s office requesting that charges be dropped. The plea was unsuccessful, and lawyers for the group argued for dismissal instead by the court.

A superior court judge denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, instead ordering it to a jury trial. The group’s argument is considered a “case of first impression,” meaning no clear precedent has been set on the application of California Penal Code Section 602.1, under which the protesters are charged with refusing to disperse and interfering with the business of a public agency. Subsection (b) of the law prevents these actions, while subsection (c) makes an exception for the exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech.

One of the defendants has accepted a plea bargain, agreeing to plead no contest to the charges in exchange for the city attorney dropping its press for jail time in exchange for a sentence of eight hours’ community service.

“We're fighting the charges. We don't think that we're guilty,” said Alliance organizer and defendant Sean Bohac, speaking for the remaining defendants.

The city attorney’s office says the community service offer will be extended to any other takers through the end of the month. Another court date is scheduled for November. Photo from Arise for Social Justice website

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