A corporate official in charge of an Elmwood Avenue plaza where the city's first major abortion protest was staged last fall couldn't tell a judge today whether the protesters had official or unofficial permission to demonstrate outside an abortion clinic.
Peter Broderick, director of business development and real estate for the Peter J. Schmitt Co., told City Judge Anthony P. LoRusso the demonstrators didn't have formal permission from him to stage the protest last Oct. 28 and 29 outside Buffalo GYN Womenservices clinic.
But he conceded that either a handful of his higher-ups with authority over such matters or any of the nine business tenants at the plaza at 260 Elmwood Avenue could have told the protesters they could enter the plaza grounds those days.
LoRusso began a non-jury trial today for 68 remaining defendants on trespass-related charges. Prior to the trial, 13 other protesters sought and were granted delayed dismissals of the charges and barred from further demonstrations.
Also before the trial, another defendant, the Rev. James L. Evans, one of the area's most outspoken abortion protesters, pleaded guilty to a non-criminal trespass charge and was grant ed a conditional discharge barring him from the plaza.
The remaining defendants face possible fines and jail terms if convicted of deliberately blocking the door to the second-floor medical clinic.
The Schmitt concern has an unwritten policy banning either protest demonstrations or the distribution of handbills on the grounds of the plaza between Summer and North Streets, Broderick said. None of the tenants has official permission to authorize such activity, he added.
But under cross-examination from defense attorney Ronald M. Cinelli, Broderick said he "couldn't tell" whether someone, either in authority above him or a tenant without permission, told them they could demonstrate.
"I guess I wouldn't know that," Broderick conceded in questioning by Cinelli and prosecutor Molly Musarra.
At issue is whether the defendants were present at the plaza without permission during the Oct. 28 and 29 protests and had permission to demonstrate while the plaza was open.
Marilynn Buckham, administrator of the clinic, testified that hours after the Oct. 28 protest began, Buffalo police sneaked her out of the plaza building through a basement tunnel because protesters told the police they wouldn't let her out of the facility.
Protesters began forming human barricades outside the front and rear doors of the plaza building about 7:10 a.m. Oct. 28 and refused to let anyone in the building, Ms. Buckham testified.
Ms. Buckham said she spoke in what she described as a "very panic stricken" and "loud" voice in repeatedly asking the protesters to leave the building, but they refused until police arrived about four hours after the Oct. 28 demonstration began.
Demonstrators stood and sat with their backs against the doors of the plaza building and "just crowded closer to the doors" each time Ms. Buckham asked them to leave, she testified.