US TV star-turned climate activist Yael Stone has fronted court over her involvement in an illegal mural painted on a public wall.
Police caught the Orange is the New Black actress with three fellow activists and a trolley full of spray cans the night of July 16, 2020, as the paint was still drying on a massive "mother earth" mural signed off by the climate activist group, Extinction Rebellion.
The 38-year-old and one of the men were later charged with damaging property at Thirroul, in Wollongong's northern suburbs.
In Wollongong Local Court on Tuesday Stone's barrister Cate Doosey called on Magistrate Gabriel Fleming to grant the star leniency because of her good character, and because a conviction would limit her acting opportunities abroad.
The question of character
The magistrate considered four character references, including one by Stone's partner Jack Manning Bancroft, who is CEO of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.
"Everybody speaks of Ms Stone's integrity as being a defining characteristic," Ms Doosey said. "Ms Stone has devoted herself and a great deal of her time to making the world a better place and a safer place, particularly for those who come from less opportunity than Ms Stone."
"It's a mark of Ms Stone's character that when she was struggling to express ... the despair and the panic that she and a large number of people felt in relation to the climate crisis, that she did so by attempting to add beauty."
"Ms Stone, unlike some people, stayed there to clean up after the mural was painted. Some people melted away into the shadows; Ms Stone has always taken responsibility."
Ms Doosey said Stone now "disavowed and rejects that type of activism" and was working with Wollongong City Council. She described Stone a "leading voice in climate activism" and said the process of being charged with criminal behaviour had been confronting for the star.
"A conviction could have a devastating impact on Ms Stone. It would limit her chance to accept professional acting opportunities, particularly in the states where she has previously had a high level of success."
What happened on July 16?
According to a police account, officers arrived at the wall about 9pm to find Stone and three others - Patrick Grant, Trent Jansen and Matthew Loft - standing at the completed mural with a trolley full painting supplies.
When police asked if they had permission from council to paint the wall, Stone said, "well we don't technically have permits".
Someone in the group told the officers, "we had a meeting with 250 residents and they gave wanted us to paint the mural". The four were given a move on direction. Stone made no further comment when police visited her home on March 30.
The mother of all murals
The unsolicited mural showed a sleeping Mother Earth nestled against an Illawarra escarpment-esque landscape. It was quickly painted over by Wollongong City Council, despite an element of community support.
At the time, Extinction Rebellion's Amy Luschwitz said the mural was intended to make people "think about the land as our mother, who we should all be caring for".
"There are some people who don't really see [the mural] it as an act of civil disobedience; they see it more as a community project that is going to start debate," she said.
Orange is the New Black star/climate activist Yael Stone departs Wollongong courthouse this morning. No conviction recorded for her part in an illegal “Mother Earth” mural painted on a public pool wall at Thirroul last year. pic.twitter.com/jXGOvXm15u— Angela Thompson (@AngelaThomps0n) June 29, 2021
The prosecution did not push for a conviction in court on Tuesday.
Magistrate Fleming dismissed the matter, with a caution.
"It does not appear to be a deliberately destructive act ... behind it, but at the end of the day if you don't own the wall, you don't have the permission to paint," she said.
Patrick Michael Grant will return to court next month.
Stone quit her US career early last year, settling in the Illawarra after announcing she would be giving up her Green Card for ethical reasons.
"The carbon emissions alone from that flying - it's unethical," she said in a video to Instagram. "It's not right. So I will be going through the process of giving up my green card, and saying goodbye to a life in America. I'm going to be here in Australia doing the the work I can to make a difference here. Because the time is now."