April 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Choi dismisses attorneys, may represent himself
Dan Choi, gay news, gay politics dc

Dan Choi, who was arrested in 2010 at a White House protest, may represent himself at trial.

Gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi earlier this year informed a federal judge in D.C. that he has dismissed the attorneys representing him in a trial for his November 2010 arrest for chaining himself to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Choi told the Blade this week he’s leaning toward representing himself in a practice referred to in the court system as pro se representation.

“Frank Kameny has been a major inspiration in that way,” said Choi, referring to the late gay rights leader from D.C. Kameny represented himself before the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1960s in an unsuccessful challenge to his firing from a federal government job because he was gay.

The petition that Kameny wrote asking the high court to take his case has been hailed as a precedent-setting manifesto for the gay rights movement.

“I think for activists, especially for people who protest at the public square, there’s no more powerful thing and there’s no greater empowering moment than to stand before the judge and let them hear your own voice,” Choi said.

He said he’s weighing whether to appeal his own case to the Supreme Court to challenge a procedural ruling preventing him from arguing at trial that he was targeted for “vindictive” or “selective” prosecution.

If the Supreme Court were to refuse to take his case or if he forgoes that appeal, his trial, which began in August 2011, would resume in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Prosecutors used a harsher than usual federal law to charge Choi with a misdemeanor count of disobeying a lawful order by police to move away from the White House fence after he and nearly a dozen others handcuffed themselves to the fence. All of the other protesters agreed to a government offer to plead guilty to forgo a trial and to have the charge dropped if they refrained from getting arrested again at the White House for four months.

Choi refused that offer, saying his aim is to win an acquittal at trial on grounds that his action handcuffing himself to the White House fence is protected by his First Amendment right to free speech and should not be considered an illegal act.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • For Choi to invoke Frank Kameny is a bit odd here, since Frank told Dan that he had chained himself to a fence at the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In any case, Frank’s brief is available on Amazon Kindle. It certainly has rhetorical flourishes, but is also carefully argued. Aside from that, Frank was mostly on his own fifty years ago (he got help from an attorney at the lower levels, but was left to his own devices when he appealed to the Supreme Court). As it happened, Frank was uncommonly brilliant and did his homework, and the path he charted was productively followed by others in the decades that followed. There is no lack of experienced, pro-gay attorneys now. Doubtless you’ve heard the maxim that a man who defends himself has a fool for a client. Based on past observation, one wonders if the driving consideration at this point is a desire not so much for justice as for drama. If Lt. Choi needs a spotlight more than a lawyer, what does that tell you?

  • I wish to disagree with Choi about how there’s supposedly nothing more powerful for an activist than to appear for a few minutes before a judge. For me as an activist, it’s more vital to effect change in policies or with Big Pharma delivering AIDS meds at affordable prices or staging vigils in solidarity with global gays suffering violence and death or any number of other ways to better the world. Speaking words to a judge has a place certainly, but it ain’t the be all and end all in today’s world.

  • Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, Navy (Retired)

    1LT Dan Choi needs to get a life and people need to recognize who he really is. Maybe 90 days in jail will straighten him out.

    There is more to 1LT Dan Choi than his being gay, chaining himself to the White House Fence, and now having a fool for a client by firing his attorney. He was a mediocre Army officer as evidenced by the fact when he came out as being gay in 2009 on the Rachel Maddow show he was not a Captain O-3, he was – and still is – a 1LT O-2. To hear Maddow and others talk this was one of the best officers the Army had. He was discharged from the military in 2010 for being gay.

    Here are the facts. After graduating from West Point in 2003 Choi was on active duty for five years, including a tour in Iraq. An officer gets to O-3 pretty much automatically at year four. Thus when he came out that that he was gay he had been passed over for promotion to O-3 at least twice, probably three or four times.

    Promotion to Captain is almost 100 percent. Anyone not promoted is a poor performer and their career is over. This is even more shocking since he graduated from West Point, which usually gives you a leg up. He apparently did not think his chances of making O-3 in the National Guard were very good or he would have waited until he made Captain and then come out as a gay man. He may have even been passed over in the Guard for promotion.

    Other reasons for not allowing him to reenlist are his repeated criminal activities that caused him to be arrested, such as chaining himself to the White House Fence while improperly wearing his Army uniform. He has even been arrested in Moscow for like behavior. He is still pending criminal charges for one of those incidents. Last December he was thrown of the PFC Manning court-martial and off the base.

    The Justice Dept. should prosecute him for continuing to wear his uniform in public – you can only do that as a veteran on special occasions, protests do not qualify. I am honorably discharged and retired with over 20 years of military service and I cannot legally wear the uniform as he has been doing. ALL honorably discharged veterans and all still in the military should be appalled by him unprofessional behavior. His behavior demeans the uniform.

    If he is ever allowed back in the military, Choi will next claim he was not promoted to O-3 because he was gay. Who knows he might be able to get himself deep selected to major over his peers using that tactic.

    Choi’s being a poster child for gay rights has made him a large chunk of money and the longer he can keep his face in the news he can probably pull in a six figure income each year. All in all a pretty good deal for a failed officer who either has an enormous ego or is mentally unbalanced. If he was heterosexual no one would care if he was discharged for failing to be promoted for poor performance. The Blade and other news media outlets should ask Choi to waive his Privacy Act rights to obtain copies of his fitness reports from 2003 to present. He will of course refuse as they will show what type of officer he really is.

    Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, Navy (Retired), Alexandria, VA

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