There has been a lot of discussion about the deposit of funds into my Wells Fargo client trust account. In the interests of transparency, I submit this open letter.
When I volunteered the use of the account I was balancing the possibility of bad PR, with the possibility of forestalling serious physical harm to people in the jail. It was possible that there would have been mass arrests on the day of the general strike.
If I have to choose between bad PR and human lives, then I will choose bad PR every time. I was informed that people had already faced seriously dangerous conditions in the jail. The night before the general strike I had no way to know that the day would not end in mass arrests at the port, or a hail of rubber bullets and wooden dowels like the anti-war port protest in 2003.
A few points of clarification:
1. Why did Occupy Oakland open an account at Wells Fargo?
We didn’t. My client trust account existed previously– I did not open it recently. I was in process of moving all my accounts for 5 November when I got sick.
2. So you control the money?
No. The money is technically still the property of Occupy Oakland, that’s why it’s called a trust account. Occupy Oakland has ownership of the money, and dictates how it is spent. That is why the solidarity committee brought a proposal to the GA the other night– to get approval for the money to go into the client-trust account. Had the GA rejected the proposal that would have been 100% fine with me, which is what I said at the GA. Had someone else stepped up that night, that would have been 100% fine with me as well. But no one did.
3. Why didn’t Occupy Oakland just open an account in its own name?
We were in the process of doing that. However, we had to file paperwork with the state of California. I, personally drove to Sacramento to file it and get it done in an expedited way. Nonetheless, we still had not received the paperwork back, and are still waiting for it. We are still in process of setting up an independent Occupy Oakland financial account.
Neither a bank nor a credit union will open a bank account for an organization without showing the relevant state paperwork.
4. Well what about Long Haul? Aren’t they handling some donations on our behalf?
Long Haul could not accept the money from OWS. The terms of the agreement with Long Haul forbid Occupy Oakland to use any of the deposited money for bail. Period.
5. Why didn’t you just send someone down to a credit union to open an account?
Because if we sent some random person down to a CU or any institution, and they opened an account, they would take legal possession of the money. If that person had wanted to run off to Tahiti with the money, they would have been well within their legal rights to do so.
6. Why didn’t you personally just open a trust account at a credit union, it’s so simple?
Actually it’s not simple. First, there was nothing I could do the night before the general strike. Second, adding steps to a process always adds uncertainty and more variables increases delay. Last week, we knew that at least one person had languished for almost 24 hours without medical care, despite a ruptured spleen. Those are not, by any stretch of the imagination, good conditions.
7. Where the hell is the money now?
The money reached the client trust account today, November 9th, around noon. I have been told that another attorney has stepped forward who has a client trust account with a non-major financial institution. If this is the case and Occupy Oakland authorizes it, I will happily transfer the money to him.
8. Well fine, but you didn’t receive the money until November 9th, why not open a new account before then?
I had passed the client trust account information to OWS (via people inside Occupy Oakland) on the afternoon of 3 November. I was advised that the transfer would take place immediately, so made no preparations for another account.
Over the next week, I heard a variety of things from “the money is being transferred today” to “NPR has reported that the money was transferred over the weekend.” I can understand that OWS was concerned who I was, and so I offered my bar (law license) number as well as volunteering to give personal references in the Bay Area progressive community.
Had I known it would take a week, I would have simply put the word out for another attorney with a trust account in a community bank or other institution. But there was no way to know that going in.
I understand that this entire event has been bad PR for Occupy Oakland and the Occupy movement generally. What I also know is that I will always choose to risk bad PR over risking people’s lives and personal safety.
The mentality that Occupy is protesting is a mentality that applauds the opposite. It applauds good PR over risking people’s lives. That is the mentality of people who stand aside for corporate misbehavior, even when it costs lives. It is exactly the mentality of politicians who choose to go to bat for oligarchs and try to cut food stamp programs, rather than risk being called a socialist. It is exactly the mentality of judges who allow foreclosures even when the bank foreclosing has no case.
People like that don’t want the bad PR, and they’re willing to risk other people’s lives to avoid bad PR.
And that is exactly what we are fighting against. Isn’t it?