Ten AIDS activists pleaded no contest Monday and were placed on probation for taking part in a protest at a fund-raiser for state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita) last year that led to their arrests.
The activists and others used the court appearance to again protest Davis' sponsorship of a bill that would make it a crime for people who know they are infected with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, to engage in unprotected sexual activity or share a hypodermic needle.
Before the hearing in Van Nuys Municipal Court, members of the Coalition Against HIV and AIDS Discrimination held an hourlong press conference at which Davis was labeled a "dangerous man" for promoting the bill.
The 10 activists, many wearing stickers that read "HIV Is Not a Crime. Ed Davis Is a Slime," entered their no contest pleas to misdemeanor charges that they had blocked access to a public right of way Nov. 15 when they demonstrated on a street outside the Warner Center Marriott Hotel in Woodland Hills. Inside the hotel, Gov. Pete Wilson was holding a fund-raiser for Davis.
About two dozen protesters were arrested for demonstrating in and outside of the hotel, but the city attorney's office filed charges only against those who blocked the street outside the hotel, Deputy City Atty. Kjehl Johansen said.
Judge Alan Ellis sentenced eight men and one woman to probation terms of one year and one man, who had a prior arrest record, to 18 months probation. Ellis also ordered the protesters to perform community service assignments ranging from 50 to 260 hours.
Tom Brooks, 28, who was sentenced to one year probation and 240 hours of community service, said the penalty was worth the attention the protests brought to the legislation Davis is sponsoring.
"I think it has helped highlight the issue," Brooks said. "No number of faxes could get as much attention."
The bill would make it a felony subject to life imprisonment for someone who knows that he has HIV to intentionally infect a partner, according to a Davis aide. It would also be a felony with a lesser penalty for such a person to have sex without first advising his partner or using a condom. A provision would also make it a misdemeanor for a person who knows that he has HIV and uses a condom but fails to disclose that information to his sexual partner.
Davis' measure was approved last year by the Senate but faces an uncertain fate in the Assembly, where it is pending in the Public Safety Committee.
Before Monday's hearing, representatives of several gay and AIDS rights groups spoke against the measure at a press conference in front of the courthouse.
The activists called the proposed law discriminatory against people with the disease and fraught with problems, particularly in the area of victims being able to prove who infected them with the virus.
One coalition member, Neil Klasky, said the incubation period of acquired immune deficiency syndrome is so long that some people discovered they were infected years after obtaining the virus, making it difficult in some cases to know with accuracy which sex partner it came from. "You can be dragged into court" without proof, he said. "It's a witch hunt. It sets people against each other."
Another speaker, Wayne Karr, said he is infected with AIDS and the law, if passed, could make him a criminal. "If I continue to be a sexually active person--which I intend to do--I could be criminally prosecuted for practicing safe sex," Karr said. "The law just doesn't make sense."
Times staff writer Mark Gladstone in Sacramento contributed to this story.