U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks during a news conference announcing the outcome of the national health care fraud takedown at the Justice Department in Washington
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. peace activist found guilty of laughing during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing early this year had her conviction thrown out on Friday and will be retried, her lawyer said.
Desiree Fairooz, 61, a member of the anti-war group Code Pink, was arrested for laughing during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January in response to a lawmaker's assertion that Sessions, then a Republican U.S. senator from Alabama, treated all Americans equally.
Fairooz, a children's librarian, shouted, "This man is evil, pure evil" as police led her out. A jury found Fairooz guilty in May of disrupting a session of Congress and demonstrating on Capitol grounds. She had been due to be sentenced on Friday.
But Chief Judge Robert Morin of the District of Columbia Superior Court overturned the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. In his ruling, Morin said it was unclear whether Fairooz had been convicted for laughter or for speaking out as she was removed, her lawyer, Samuel Bogash, said by telephone.
"The government's position was that laughing alone was enough to convict. But the judge made it clear that he didn't think it was," Morin said.
Code Pink, which often stages protests against politicians, said on its Facebook page that Fairooz denounced a retrial as a waste of taxpayers' money.
"The only thing more ridiculous than being tried for laughing, is being tried twice for laughing," Code Pink quoted her as saying.
Morin did not set a trial date and scheduled a status hearing for Sept. 1. Fairooz had faced up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each of her two convictions.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said two other Code Pink activists who were convicted for disrupting the hearing, Lenny Bianchi and Tighe Barry, were sentenced to 10 days in jail.
The sentences were suspended on condition that Barry and Bianchi complete six months of unsupervised probation, he said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)