The Associated Press December 15, 2011, 8:21AM ET

Throng of Occupy protesters appear in NY courts

Nearly 200 people arrested during Occupy Wall Street-related protests were in New York courtrooms hundreds of miles apart Wednesday, answering charges that stemmed from a march on the Brooklyn Bridge and a demonstration in a Rochester park.

A Manhattan court plowed through arraignments of 161 people, most of them among the more than 700 picked up in an Oct. 1 march that marked the biggest mass arrest of the New York protest so far. Hundreds of other protesters arrested on the bridge and during other Occupy demonstrations in the city have already been to court, but this week's numbers are some of the biggest.

Meanwhile, 28 Occupy Wall Street supporters asked a Rochester court to dismiss charges they violated a nighttime curfew at a park. A judge didn't immediately decide and set another hearing for Jan. 12.

In Manhattan, people lined hallways and an overflow courtroom in a courthouse that handles low-level offenses, with some defendants and supporters wearing their Occupy Wall Street allegiance on buttons -- and in one case, a hand-painted oxford shirt. Many had been arrested on the bridge after police said protesters ignored warnings not to leave a pedestrian path and go onto the roadway.

The demonstrators were generally charged with disorderly conduct and blocking traffic, both violations. Nearly 60 percent took a judge's offer Wednesday to get their cases dismissed if they avoid getting arrested again for six months.

That made sense to Mark Pruce, who'd gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to get to court from his home in rural Millerton, N.Y., about 100 miles and $45 in trains and subways away.

Like many others arrested, he said he hadn't heard any police warnings and thought officers were letting the demonstrators go onto the road. But the freelance graphic and web designer, 24, said it would be difficult for him to return to court repeatedly to fight the case.

But the remaining roughly 40 percent told Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Neil Ross they wanted trials. Many were eager for trials they believe will vindicate them, said Martin Stolar, a lawyer representing many of the demonstrators.

Amanda Geraci, 29, said it would be a pain to come back to court from her home in Philadelphia. But she turned down the dismissal deal, partly because she didn't like the condition of staying out of trouble for six months.

"I'm not going to have something over my head from a justice system I didn't do anything wrong against," she said after court.

Another 15 people didn't show up for court; Ross agreed to put arrest warrants for them on hold until Jan. 25. Two more had their cases postponed to Thursday.

Over the nearly three months since Occupy Wall Street began, New York City police have arrested more than 1,200 people in connection with the demonstration. Besides those arraigned Wednesday, about 170 more have court dates later this week.

They, too, will appear before Ross, a veteran of prominent protest cases. In 2006, he acquitted 18 members of an activist group called the Granny Peace Brigade of disorderly conduct charges stemming from an anti-Iraq War protest outside the Times Square military recruiting station. He said the evidence showed they hadn't blocked foot traffic or kept anyone from going in.

In Rochester, the demonstrators who appeared were among 48 arrested in a small downtown park. Their arrests were the first of Occupy supporters in upstate New York's major cities.

They were accused of trespassing by staying in Washington Square Park after hours. But since the arrests, Mayor Tom Richards has shifted direction to let Occupy Rochester protest round the clock there. About 35 tents have since sprung up.

Protesters say Rochester is now the only city in New York to provide a legal basis for an Occupy encampment.

One of the 28 protesters, Brian Lenzo, said he was angry that the charges weren't immediately tossed out Wednesday.

"We think this is just a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources," said Lenzo, 30, a computer programmer.

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Dobbin reported from Rochester, N.Y.

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