Press Release For immediate release: Aug.1, 2006
Prepared by the Colorado Legal Eagles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Contact: Don Wirtshafter (740) 662-5297 <email@example.com>
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
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 (http://www.welcomehome.org).
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: