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Rainbow Defense

Press Release For immediate release: Aug.1, 2006

Prepared by the Colorado Legal Eagles <>

Contact: Don Wirtshafter (740) 662-5297 <>

Rainbows Score Legal Victories

[Denver] -- Attendees of the Rainbow Family Annual Gathering scored legal victories on Friday, July 28 when the US District Court agreed to drop charges against attorney Don Wirtshafter and 124 other defendants who had been charged with "use or occupancy of a National Forest without a permit when one is required" when they attended the Gathering earlier in July in the Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs, Colorado,

The USFS regulations require that any group of over 75 people file a permit to be in the National Forest. Rainbow Gathering participants disagree that these regulations apply to their assemblies. They maintain that the Rainbow Family is not an organized group capable of delegating authority to anyone to sign a permit. Instead, Rainbow volunteers and the Forest Service resource officers agreed in advance to Operating Plans for the gathering. However, after the gathering began, the Law Enforcement and Investigations branch of the Forest Service insisted that a formal permit be obtained. At that point, several individuals offered to file permit applications without signature, since they could not represent a group that has no leaders or structure, but this offer was denied.

The USFS decided to try to stop the gathering by giving citations for using the forest without a permit. They used "some of the harshest law enforcement methods ever witnessed against peaceful citizens exercising their right to assemble," said Wirtshafter. Over 75 armed federal and local law enforcement officers manned roadblocks and stopped cars heading into the gathering. Over 500 people received citations, and many illegal searches, detainments, and incidents of police brutality were reported. Despite the threat of arrest, at least 20,000 people attended the Gathering.

The Forest Service set up a temporary federal courthouse at a volunteer fire station near Steamboat Springs to process the cases. "Conditions at the makeshift courtroom were appalling," said Wirtshafter. "Defendants were forced to wait in the sweltering heat with no water, restrooms, shade, food, or telephones for up to 13 hours for their cases to be called."

Initially, access to the makeshift federal courtroom was closed, even to attorneys. A lawsuit filed by attorneys in Denver forced the federal magistrate to open the courtroom, but the public was still largely unable to witness the trials. There were no public defenders available for indigent defendants. The court denied requests for continuances and the opportunity to subpoena witnesses.

After seeing the conditions of the temporary courthouse, Ohio attorney Don Wirtshafter petitioned the court to be admitted to the federal bar of Colorado so he could represent some of the defendants who wished to contest the citations. "It was the worst abuse of defendants I had ever seen, far worse than I ever imagined the justice system could provide in America," Wirtshafter said.

To cause maximum disruption, law enforcement officers targeted the Gathering's medical, water system, and communication volunteers with tickets. A gathering ambulance driver was stopped on the road miles from the gathering and given a use and occupancy ticket. An EMT qualified volunteer was arrested for interfering with the duties of a police officer for trying to help individuals involved in a traffic accident. A nurse-practitioner had her tent raided in the middle of the night. The contents of her medical bag became the subject of a controlled substance charge. It took a week to convince the prosecutors there were no controlled substances and that she truly was licensed to have the medicines that she possessed.

Wirtshafter discovered he was a target when driving a client back to the Gathering after a trial at the makeshift courtroom. He had just finished his first grilling cross-examination of Tim Lynn, Incident Commander for the management team that the USFS moved in to "control" the gathering. At the roadblock after the cross-examination, Wirtshafter was given the only ticket that day.

In Federal court on Friday, Wirtshafter expressed his outrage at law enforcement targeting officers of the court. The Assistant US Attorney agreed and dismissed the outstanding charges against Wirtshafter. Charges were also dropped against another 124 defendants who had received citations, but had failed to appear in court. The Assistant US Attorney agreed to accept $15 fines for each and a local philanthropist paid for them.

"It's yet another example of how unfairly defendants were treated in the temporary court. It was more like Guantanamo than anything resembling what we expect from the American justice system," Wirtshafter said. "The fact that the US Attorney did not want to prosecute any of these cases shows how frivolous the charges were to begin with. It's clear that Incident Command's intention was simply to harass and intimidate legitimate forest users and chill the momentum of the growing rainbow family."

Of the over 500 citations issued, most were adjudicated at the makeshift courtroom in Steamboat with most defendants agreeing to pay a $40 collateral forfeiture fee in exchange for dropping the charges. However, there are 4 defendants that have filed notices to appeal their convictions in the makeshift courtroom.

On August 11, Rob Savoye, a Nederland computer consultant who voluntarily provides communications and medical facilities at the Gatherings, will be one of the last defendants to appear in US District Court. Savoye is being treated differently. He was not offered the $40 collateral forfeiture fee that the other defendants were offered. The USFS believes Savoye is the "secret leader" of the Rainbow Family because he hosts a Rainbow website ( Savoye will be represented by Phil Dubois, a Colorado Springs attorney who gained notoriety in his successful defense of Phil Zimmerman, who was prosecuted by the federal government for violating U.S. export restrictions on cryptographic software for posting PGP, a free email encryption program, on the Internet.

For more information on the Rainbow Gatherings, see

For Reports from the 2006 Gathering, see:




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