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ND 88′ offered program to avoid trial

Sarah Mervosh | Saturday, May 1, 2010


The protestors arrested on campus during last May’s Commencement ceremony, known as the “ND 88,” have been offered a program to avoid trial by St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak, according to a statement by University President Fr. John Jenkins.

According to the press release, Dvorak will offer a pre-trial diversion program to those arrested, which would give them the chance to have their cases dismissed with no criminal record. To be eligible, the person must waive the right to a trial, have no criminal record and agree to obey local, state and federal laws for one year.

Jenkins said he believes the Prosecutor’s Office’s decision is “balanced and lenient.”

The protesters violated University policies regarding campus demonstrations and were given multiple warnings prior to their arrest, Jenkins said in the statement released Friday.

“We require that any campus demonstration, regardless of the issue, be organized by a student, faculty or staff member, receive approval from the University through the Office of Student Affairs and be peaceful and orderly,” Jenkins said. “Those who were arrested last spring met none of these criteria.”

The University has been in contact with Dvorak, who has been handling the prosecution of those arrested on campus last spring.

“To be eligible, a person must waive the right to a trial, have no criminal record and agree to obey local, state and federal laws for one year,” Jenkins said of the pre-trial diversion program. “The program also includes the payment of a fee for cost.”

In a letter to the University, Dvorak said his office will work with those who demonstrated a financial need to reduce or potentially eliminate these fees.

The protesters took a pro-life stance, but Jenkins said their arrest does not mean the University does not value the sanctity of life.

“We at Notre Dame embrace the Catholic position on the sanctity of life. We oppose abortion and support laws that protect life from conception to natural death,” he said. “In this respect, we fully agree with the protestors.

“But the University cannot have one set of rules for causes we oppose and another more lenient set of rules for causes we support. We have one consistent set of rules for demonstrations on campus — no matter what the cause.”

In the past, the University has banned those who were arrested for trespass. It will not take this action against the protesters given they complete the pre-trial diversion program, are acquitted of charges or plead guilty.

Jenkins also said alternative pro-life demonstrations that met University regulations were offered last spring.

“Those now charged with trespass could have joined these protests without interference or arrest,” Jenkins said. “These included a demonstration on April 5 in front of the Main Building, a Eucharistic adoration from May 16 to May 17 in one of the residence hall chapels and on Commencement day, a Mass, a rally and a prayer vigil on South Quad and a Rosary and meditation at the Grotto.

“Nearly 3,000 people participated in the prayerful protest on the South Quad,” Jenkins said. “None of the participants in any of these activities were arrested.”

Jenkins said the University welcomes debate about public issues, as well as protest.

“We have great respect for people who engage in the long and noble tradition of civil disobedience and courageously accept the consequences to call attention to themselves and their message,” he said.

But he said the University also has a responsibility to maintain an environment that allows students, faculty and staff to continue their work without interference.

“It is this dual commitment to free expression and public order that has guided us in this case,” Jenkins said.