12 Arrested Amid Dueling Court Orders
BARABOO -- Twelve people including Weedstock organizer Ben Masel were
arrested Friday as authorities moved in and closed down the annual
Memorial Day weekend festival to push for legalization of marijuana
held on a farm east of here.
Masel's arrest came as he returned to the town of Fairfield farm,
where nearly 300 festival-goers had already set up camp, to tell them
he had a court order prohibiting Sauk County Sheriff Randy Stammen
from arresting any of them for unlawful assembly.
In a twist, the arrest of the longtime marijuana advocate was made on
a court order issued by Sauk County Circuit Judge Virginia Wolfe that
shut down the 12th annual festival, "Weedstock 2000." Wolfe said Masel
and his followers had failed to get a permit under a new county
ordinance restricting open-air gatherings of more than 1,000.
The charges against Masel were for contempt of Wolfe's court order.
Masel was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by sheriff's deputies
and other police officers. Almost 50 officers from throughout the
county had gathered at the farm owned by Marcus Gumz, father of State
Rep. Sheryl Albers, R-Loganville.
Masel continued to shout at the officers that they were denying him
his constitutional right to free assembly.
His lawyer, Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, stood by as his client was
escorted to a squad car and whisked away to Baraboo, where he later
was freed on a signature bond and ordered to return on the misdemeanor
count. A conviction carries a fine of up to $5,000 and 12 months in jail.
Olson called the arrest tragic. He said there was an obvious conflict
between the court order he had obtained an hour earlier from Columbia
County Circuit Judge James Miller, which restrained authorities from
arresting festival-goers unless the authorities could show the crowd
was unlawfully assembled.
"The two (orders) are both in force and there is an obvious conflict,"
Olson said as he stood by the front gate to the farm where deputies
had posted the Wolfe court order and a sign closing the festival.
However, Olson went onto the grounds with a police escort to advise
festival-goers to leave or face arrest on contempt charges.
The longtime Madison civil rights attorney said that as long as
Stammen and his deputies did not make any arrests on the basis of
unlawful assembly, they were not disobeying the Miller order. He
shrugged when asked which order had precedence.
"All I can say is we were in court before they were, and we were not
invited to their court hearing although we were in the courthouse," he said.
The challenge made by Masel was sent to Columbia County when Sauk
County judges refused the hear the matter and recused themselves.
Stammen said the 11 others arrested also were charged with contempt of
court. Their arrests were made about three hours after officers moved
onto the farm and warned festival-goers to leave or face arrest.
"We gave them more time than the court order said," the sheriff said.
"What we had were a handful who were not going to leave, no matter what."
He said there was some confrontation in several of those arrests,
which were made out of sight of the media members who had gathered at
the scene but were barred from entering.
The 11 were taken to Baraboo in a school bus, which followed two
armored vehicles onto the grounds shortly after 6 p.m.
Stammen said there were no injuries and the arrests did not require any force.
The 11, like Masel, were to appear before a judge called in Friday night.
Most were released on signature bonds or had to post up to $500 in bail.
Many of the party-goers left the grounds shortly after the authorities
arrived and gave their initial warning. Most of them were from out of
state -- dozens of vehicles had Iowa and Illinois license plates and
several were from New York and Maryland. As one officer at the scene
said: "The out-of-staters would have to post cash and probably have to
come back here at a later date for a court appearance. They probably
felt it wasn't worth it."
Joe Mayer of Eau Claire didn't leave as peacefully. He stopped to
address reporters, yelling loudly that his constitutional rights were
"They just stormed in here like the Gestapo. We have a right to be
here and have a right to free assembly," he said.
Mayer said the mood on the grounds was not to leave but make a
peaceful stand. But he slipped out the gate and down the road toward town.
Stammen promised to return today and the remainder of the weekend to
ensure that the gathering does not re-form.
Masel, however, said he was moving Weedstock to the Sauk County
Courthouse grounds and "to other unidentified places around Sauk
County." About 60 people, including one of the musical groups that had
planned to appear at the farm, had gathered on the courthouse lawn at
8 p.m. as Masel walked around with a banner proclaiming legalization of marijuana.