October 22, 1999 -- Erie Times
No verdict in Rainbow permit case
The nonjury trial against three Rainbow Family members
ended Thursday with handshakes and smiles, but with no verdict.
Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. said he
will rule sometime after he receives the lawyers' final briefs,
which are due by Nov. 15.
Cohill heard testimony on Wednesday and Thursday at the
federal courthouse in Erie. He will use the briefs to help him
determine two things -- the constitutionality of the U.S. Forest
Service regulation that the Rainbows are accused of violating,
and the Rainbows' guilt or innocence.
During the trial, members of the forest service testified
about how they cited the three for failure to get permits for
the Rainbow Family's annual gathering in the Allegheny National
Forest this summer. None of the Rainbows testified.
Afterward, the defendants and some of their supporters
shook hands and smiled with members of the forest service and
the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Trucilla.
"The problem is with the law," said defendant
Garrick Beck, of Santa Fe, N.M. "My ill will isn't toward
the people who ticketed us. It is toward the regulation writers
in Washington who have been targeting our group for years."
Trucilla said the law is meant to treat any noncommercial
group fairly, Rainbows included.
"It is narrowly tailored to meet specific requirements,"
he said. "It is not overly broad."
The three-year-old regulation requires noncommercial groups
of 75 people or more to take out free permits for events at the
national forests. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up
to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. In 1997, the last time
the Rainbows had such a case in federal court in Erie, a magistrate
judge found the regulation constitutional and fined the two defendants
The current case involves different Rainbows. Trucilla
has said he would have no problem with a conviction resulting
in no more than a $100 fine each.
Whatever the verdict, the case could set precedent for
Pennsylvania and two other eastern states. Either side may appeal
Cohill's decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based
in Philadelphia, which has never ruled on the constitutionality
of the permit requirement. The 3rd Circuit covers Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond,
Va., has ruled the permit constitutional. And the court for the
9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, has an appeal pending. The
circuit courts are independent from each other, and their rulings
are not binding across the circuits. The U.S. Supreme Court would
have the final word if an appeal reached the high court.
Beck stood trial along with Stephen Sedlacko, also known as Stephen
Principle, of Eugene, Ore.; and Joan Kalb, also known as Joan
Freedom, of New York City. They are represented by Erie attorney
John Garhart, for the American Civil Liberties Union and Beck;
Bruce Antkowiak of Greensburg, the court-appointed lawyer for
Sedlacko; and Erie attorney Robert Sambroak, who is representing
Kalb for free.
The three defendants were among the 20,000 members of the
Rainbow Family who attended the annual gathering from June 28
to July 10 at the 540,000-acre Allegheny National Forest in an
area near Ridgway, Elk County. The family, made up largely of
nonconformists who say they have no leaders, gathered to pray
The forest service cited the three defendants for the permit
violation because officers said each of the three appeared to
have leadership roles in the Rainbow Family. Trucilla, however,
said the regulation allows the forest service to cite any "spectator
or participant'' of a noncommercial group of more than 75 people
which did not obtain a permit.
"These people came forward" as leaders, Trucilla
said. "All 20,000 could have been cited. But it was not a
pragmatic thing to do."
The leadership issue still remains an important part of
the case for the Rainbows. Their lawyers referred to another part
of the regulation, which requires the permit application to be
filled out by a designated representative of the group. The Rainbows
claim no one in their assembly could meet such a standard because
the Rainbows have no leaders -- they rule by consensus, with no
one person in charge.
Garhart, Beck's attorney, summarized the argument by asking
a forest service official in court, "How do you become designated
if someone doesn't authorize the person to do it?"
Trucilla objected, and Cohill agreed that the question
was irrelevant. The forest service official, John Schultz, a ranger
in the Allegheny National Forest, did not have to answer.
The leadership issue aside, the Rainbows claim the permit
regulation is unconstitutional because it infringes on their First
Amendment rights to free assembly and free expression. They said
the regulation erodes the rights of all citizens, not only the
Trucilla argued that the law treats everyone the same and
is based on common sense. He said the forest service requires
groups to take out permits so service officials can plan for large
gatherings and protect the national forests from trash and other
"We're not saying they can't use ... the Allegheny
National Forest. We're not trying to restrict the park,"
Trucilla said. "This is not a Rainbow-specific regulation."