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Judge allows friend-of-court brief in tree-sitters case

A federal judge says a friend-of-the-court brief could be helpful in deciding whether to evict two tree-sitters trying to block a natural gas pipeline project in Western Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon credited the contention of two advocates in the pipeline controversy that an injunction sought by the pipeline company could result in the arrest or intimidation of “any attorney who represents, consults, or supports the Tree-Sitters.”

Dillon agreed to allow an amicus curiae brief addressing the intention of Mountain Valley Pipeline to seek removal of two people camped in tree branches in Montgomery County in a bid to block the pipeline project.

“The tree sitters are occupying the property with the express purpose and intent of preventing MVP from exercising its rights under the Court’s order,” the company said in a Dec. 20 pleading. The court had allowed an easement for the pipeline on privately owned land.

Lawyer Tammy Belinsky of Copper Hill and Virginia Tech Associate Professor Daniel Breslau asked to file an amicus brief in opposition to the injunction request. They argued the injunction request was overbroad because it potentially could result in the “arrest or intimidation of any attorney or person who represents, consults, or supports the Tree-Sitters, or it could impact citizens’ rights to protest the pipeline and support other protesters.”

MVP responded that the advocates had no special knowledge about the case, but Dillon said a brief would be helpful.

“Most significantly, no counsel has entered an appearance on behalf of the Tree-Sitters, and no party has advocated a position contrary to MVP’s. So, the arguments contained in the amicus curiae brief would give the court additional information beyond what was presented at the hearing and in MVP’s motion and may be helpful to the court,” Dillon wrote.

The judge gave the advocates until Jan. 16 to file their brief, with a response due a week later.