The Department of Justice this week dismissed its case against a human rights protester who, clad in pink as Lady Liberty, was arrested after she laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing in January.
“What a relief,” the protester, Desiree A. Fairooz, posted on Twitter on Monday night. “Guess they’ve got enough ‘laughing’ matters to deal with!”
William Miller, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said in statement on Tuesday that his office dismissed the case against Ms. Fairooz on Monday, but he declined to comment further because the office does not discuss charging decisions.
“I did not see this coming,” Samuel A. Bogash, Ms. Fairooz’s lawyer, said on Tuesday. “I’m really surprised.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Bogash said that he spoke with a prosecutor late last week and that she was working on the prosecution’s argument for a retrial, scheduled to begin Nov. 13. Mr. Bogash said he felt that “the decision was made after I spoke with her Friday.”
Ms. Fairooz was arrested on Jan. 10 with two other demonstrators with Code Pink, a women-led rights group, on charges of disorderly and disruptive conduct, and parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds — both misdemeanors carrying a maximum possible sentence of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. In May, a jury convicted Ms. Fairooz of both counts.
But in July, Judge Robert E. Morin of the United States Superior Court of the District of Columbia ordered a retrial for Ms. Fairooz. He rejected the notion that her laughter alone could be a sufficient basis for a conviction, as federal prosecutors had argued at the trial. And the judge was uncertain if she had been convicted because of the laughter or because of her outburst as she was led away, Mr. Bogash said in July.
During Mr. Sessions’s confirmation hearing, Ms. Fairooz, who at one point held a sign that said, “Refugees Welcome — Stop Sessions,” laughed when Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, said Mr. Sessions’s record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.”
Ms. Fairooz was immediately removed by officers. She did not go easily. Her outburst as she was dragged out of the room — “Jeff Sessions is evil!” she yelled, among other things — was captured on video and used against her at trial.
The United States Attorney’s Office had argued in a motion that Ms. Fairooz had “let out a loud burst of laughter, followed by a second louder burst of laughter.” The police then tried to “quietly escort” Ms. Fairooz from the room, but she “grew loud and more disruptive, eventually halting the confirmation hearing,” the motion said.
The two other demonstrators, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, were dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and stood up ahead of the hearing. They were acquitted on a count of disorderly conduct but were convicted on charges of parading or demonstrating, and were each sentenced to 10 days in jail with the time suspended on the condition that they successfully complete six months of unsupervised probation.
As for Ms. Fairooz, she is “happy and relieved,” Mr. Bogash said on Tuesday, though he added that she felt it was a waste of resources. “She feels that she didn’t do anything that merited the amount of government time and money that went into trying this case.”
“It solidifies her political opinion against the people she’s protesting,” he said.
Ms. Fairooz did not immediately respond to calls on Tuesday.
Ms. Fairooz said in July she hadn’t let out a “burst of laughter,” but rather that it was a giggle. “I just couldn’t hold it,” she said. “It was spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance.”
Ms. Fairooz said she had not intended to disrupt the hearing. “None of us planned to get arrested,” she said. “We just wanted to be a visible symbol of dissent.” She also said she would continue to protest the Trump administration.