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31 Occupy Sacramento court cases dropped by prosecutors

Prosecutors on Wednesday dumped 31 cases involving protesters arrested for violating city curfew law in the Occupy Sacramento demonstrations, but left nine on the books to handle people such as Cathy Grahnert, who was taken into custody on multiple occasions.

Grahnert, 57, recently laid off from a legal clinic that served low-income clients, said it was her revulsion over home foreclosures that drew her to Cesar Chavez Plaza as part of the national protest against income disparities and other issues.

"I believe in this cause," Grahnert said in the hallways of Sacramento Superior Court, after learning that her case was one of the nine slated to continue. "I've been mad for three years about foreclosures. I'm happy something is finally being done and people are speaking out."

Twice last month, Grahnert refused to leave the park when Sacramento police cleared it of protesters who stayed past the 11 p.m. curfew. Attorneys for the protesters sought in U.S. District Court in Sacramento to have the curfew law declared unconstitutional but have so far failed in the effort.

Supervising Deputy City Attorney Gustavo Martinez said his agency is confident the law will be upheld as the case proceeds in federal court. The ordinance's "reasonable time, place and manner" distinction "does not discriminate based on speech," Martinez said.

As for the remaining cases, and any others that might arise out of the more than 80 arrested protesters, Martinez said "we're hopeful" they can be resolved before trial. He said the "potential worst-case scenario" for anybody convicted at trial would be six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Martinez said it is "not the demand" from the city for the judges to throw the book at the offender/protesters, but that the ultimate call will rest with the court.

"If the cases go to trial, the judge may wind up sentencing the defendants to jail time," Martinez said.

For her part, Cathy Grahnert on Wednesday still expressed more concern about banks not working with foreclosed homeowners than she did about the possibility of winding up behind bars herself.

"(Homeowners) weren't getting modifications," she said. "The banks just weren't responding to them. They were just foreclosing, even if they missed some payments but could pay." Grahnert also denounced "all the fraud on Wall Street that caused it."

A city press release said the 31 curfew cases were dismissed in the interest of justice. Each of the 31, the statement said, had already spent a day in jail, which "achieved the People of the State of California's demand for substantial justice."

Karen Bernal, a temporarily unemployed labor organizer, was one of the 31 cut loose Wednesday morning. She said that in dismissing the case against her, the City Attorney's Office "conceded" on the issue of her free speech rights.

"I'm happy, but I can't help but think what a waste of money it's been," Bernal said.

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