Kenyon: Legal wrangling continues in Dartmouth trespassing case

Dartmouth freshman Kevin Engel, center left, and junior Roan Wade, center right, talk during a protest in front of Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., before the start of the first day of their trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth freshman Kevin Engel, center left, and junior Roan Wade, center right, talk during a protest in front of Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., before the start of the first day of their trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 03-29-2024 7:01 PM

Modified: 04-01-2024 9:06 AM


The trial of two Dartmouth College student-activists arrested on campus while peacefully supporting the plight of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war isn’t expected to resume for a couple of months.

Still the case is far from dormant.

Both sides — along with Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock’s personal attorney — have been flooding Lebanon District Court with motions, objections to motions and requests for hearings on motions.

The legal jockeying reminds us this isn’t a run-of-the-mill misdemeanor case. But we’ve known that since the late October night when Dartmouth officials called in armed Hanover cops to haul off the two students in handcuffs.

There’s a lot at stake.

Kevin Engel and Roan Wade, who were charged with criminal trespass after not obeying Dartmouth’s command that they vacate a camping tent set up on the lawn outside Beilock’s office, will be saddled with criminal records, if found guilty. That could make furthering their educations, securing jobs in some professions and traveling outside the U.S. more challenging.

They aren’t the only ones, however, who have a lot riding on what happens at the Lebanon courthouse in coming months.

Court documents show that Beilock finds herself smack in the middle of a case that she wants no part of.

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Shortly before the trial began in late February, Beilock was subpoenaed to testify by defense attorney Kira Kelley, who is representing the students pro bono.

Dartmouth is hell-bent on keeping Beilock off the witness stand. Last month, the college brought in former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney to represent Beilock. He tried to quash the subpoena, claiming the president had “no relevant testimony” to give.

Judge Michael C. Mace, who is presiding over the case, denied the motion. With Beilock and other witnesses under the judge’s sequestration order, Delaney tried a backdoor approach to gaining intel that would benefit his client.

Before the first day of proceedings started, the Manchester attorney took a seat in a corner of the crowded courtroom. Delaney, who was dressed casually for a lawyer in a courtroom setting, apparently hoped that he’d go unnoticed.

But Kelley, a 2011 Hanover High School graduate, was wise to the trick. She had Delaney tossed from the courtroom.

Delaney, who chairs the litigation department at McLane Middleton in Manchester, continued to work on getting Beilock an edge. On March 13, he filed a motion for “immediate access” to a trial transcript.

On March 22, Judge Mace denied the motion.

Too bad for the president. Knowing precisely what was said in the courtroom that first day would no doubt have helped her prep for her potential testimony. Particularly, since Keiselim Montas, Dartmouth’s director of safety and security, testified that Beilock was among a group of college administrators who huddled behind closed doors for an hour to hatch strategy that fateful night.

Later, Hanover police were summoned to the scene. What Beilock had to say — and perhaps decided — in that meeting is certainly relevant.

The timeline for when and why Hanover cops got involved is still murky. I’ve been asking for the arrest reports, which would include the information, since November. But Hanover officials have denied Valley News’ public records requests made under the state’s right-to-know law. Hanover is now paying a Concord law firm to settle the matter in Grafton County Superior Court. The Valley News’ attorney has argued in a court filing that the arrest reports, which many towns make available to the public without delay, should be released under the right-to-know law.

The case is still pending.

As Kelley points out in a March 20 motion in the Dartmouth case, Hanover police prosecutor Mariana Pastore and the college are “working together” as a team.

Beilock, through her attorney, and Pastore have “acted in alignment with each others’ interests throughout this case, assenting to each others’ motions and filing substantial arguments in support of each others’ positions,” wrote Kelley, a staff attorney with the Climate Defense Project, a Minnesota-based environmental nonprofit.

Just as Delaney had done, Pastore requested an “expedited transcript” of the trial’s first day. In sifting through the ever-growing court file this week, I couldn’t tell whether Pastore’s request had been granted. I emailed Pastore, but didn’t hear back.

Having struck out with the judge, Dartmouth is now trying to score points in the court of public opinion. Justin Anderson, the college’s senior vice president for communications, wrote in a Valley News op-ed last week that the students, through their attorney, are playing unfair.

“Dartmouth is unwilling to participate in the defense attorney’s circus-like attempt to distract from the simple facts of the case by subpoenaing President Sian Leah Beilock,” Anderson wrote.

“It is a publicity stunt and political theater to subpoena a college president to testify in a misdemeanor case conducted and prosecuted by local authorities,” he added.

Dartmouth has reason to worry that Beilock is becoming the one on trial. Kelley, in her March 11 objection to a second Delaney motion to quash the subpoena, brought up Beilock’s actions as president of Barnard College.

In 2018, Barnard students voted in support of a referendum calling on the college to divest from eight companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Beilock quickly dismissed the outcome of the vote, refusing to take up the divestment issue with the college’s trustees as the referendum requested. Barnard’s Student Government Association denounced her stance.

Beilock “seems to be firmly in the grip of Zionist alumnae of Barnard who subscribe to the belief that peacefully working toward a free Palestine is a threat to their own identity as Jews,” Eva Kalikoff, a 2016 Barnard graduate, wrote for the Forward, a nonprofit Jewish publication that dates back to 1897.

In her March 11 motion, Kelley argued Beilock’s “motivations, upon information and belief, include her bias against Palestinians and anti-Apartheid protesters, who experience differential treatment from her that ranges from apathy to active opposition.”

After the meeting between Beilock and her lieutenants, Dartmouth called Hanover cops who were “given instructions to arrest anti-Apartheid protesters by a college president with a documented history of opposition to anti-Apartheid, pro-Palestine views,” Kelley wrote in the same court filing.

Delaney responded to the court two days later. “Contrary to the defendants’ unfounded assertion, President Beilock vigorously and unequivocally repudiates any bias against any group,” he wrote.

“The Court should reject the defendants’ efforts to transform this simple trial into a platform for the vindication of their personal and wholly unrelated political views,” Delaney added.

In a March 22 motion, Delaney argued that requiring Beilock to testify is “another attempt to use this Court as political theater, not to provide evidence as to the elements of criminal trespass. This cannot stand.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dartmouth chose Delaney as Beilock’s hired gun. The college wanted an attorney who had no qualms about playing hardball, and they found one.

Delaney represented St. Paul’s School, the elite Concord private school, in a high-profile civil lawsuit resulting from the 2014 campus sexual assault of an underage girl. In defending St. Paul’s, Delaney filed a motion opposing the girl’s request for anonymity if the case went to trial.

Last March, when Delaney was in line to become a federal judge, Chessy Prout, the sexual assault victim in the St. Paul’s case, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in The Boston Globe.

“In an attempt to intimidate me, Delaney filed a motion to strip me, then 16, of my anonymity if my supporters continued to make public statements about the case,” Prout wrote. “Instead, I came forward with my name and story. Because of his actions, I lost the privilege of privacy.”

Delaney’s controversial tactics in the St. Paul’s case, in which an out-of-court settlement was eventually reached, became a political nightmare for the Biden administration. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, called Delaney “unfit for public service.”

After it became clear that he lacked enough Democratic support in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Delaney asked that his nomination be withdrawn last May.

Delaney, who has worked at McLane Middleton since leaving as attorney general in 2013, didn’t respond to my request for comment this week.

On Monday, I asked Anderson, the college’s senior vice president, about the decision to bring in Delaney. On Thursday, he replied via email that Delaney has represented Dartmouth for more than a decade and has had a “productive working relationship with us. This case involves multiple phases over many months, and as is not uncommon during a trial, roles change...”

Given the judge’s recent decision to deny Dartmouth’s request to reconsider its effort to quash the subpoena, Delaney’s “role has come to an end,” Anderson said.

Shortly thereafter on Thursday afternoon, Delaney informed the court that he was withdrawing as Beilock’s counsel.

I’m not sure what it means. I find it hard to believe that Beilock will want to take the witness stand without legal help. Dartmouth has seven in-house attorneys so perhaps it will try to save a few bucks by turning to them.

The court has scheduled a hearing on pending motions for May 20. Which means the trial itself won’t likely resume until June.

Why the delay?

The Lebanon court doesn’t have a full-time judge, leaving about five days a month for criminal court cases.

The delay could be a good thing. It gives the prosecutor and Dartmouth more time to drop a case that shouldn’t have become a police matter in the first place.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.