Monday, September 21, 2015

Judge rules profane rant on ticket free speech

“Sometimes there’s a man, I won’t say ‘hero’ ‘cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man… well he’s the man for his time and place.” – The Big Lebowski

If you’ve ever had a speeding ticket or other municipal citation you thought was a load of B.S., chances are you’ve wanted to do something pretty similar to what college kid Willian Barboza did a couple years ago when he had to shell out $175 to municipal court in Liberty, N.Y.

OK, so maybe some of you wouldn’t go as far as he did, but surely you can appreciate the impulse. The at-the-time 21-year-old scrawled an obscene message on the ticket form. In polite company, it might be translated as “(Go fornicate with) your (excrement-filled) town (female dogs).”

You can click here if you want to see a copy of the actual ticket form, but if you’re the sort of person who’s easily offended, don’t bother.

Ah, the intemperance of youth … It seems fair to say that young Mr. Barboza probably hasn’t heard any of the old chestnuts about “restraint of pen and tongue.” As an added affront, he crossed out the name “Liberty” on the form and scrawled “TYRANNY” in its place.

Not to be outdone in the race to act like a petulant child, the township of Liberty actually refused to accept Barboza’s money, and town judge Brian P. Rourke ordered him to appear at a hearing on Oct. 18, 2012. According to a story in The Huffington Post, the judge lectured Barboza about his foul language, charged him with aggravated harassment, and threw him in the clink. He was eventually released on $200 bail after spending five hours in police custody.

Who’s laughing now?

Turns out, it’s Barboza who’s laughing. First, another judge dismissed the aggravated harassment charges the following year. Once that was done, Barboza, with an assist from the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against Liberty, the assistant district attorney and the two cops who’d arrested him, alleging that his arrest was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

A federal judge agreed with Barboza’s lawyers, and issued a ruling last week that basically says the young man’s (admittedly vulgar) speech was nonetheless Constitutionally protected.

Here’s Judge Cathy Siebel’s take, from HuffPo:

“Seibel said Thursday that what Barboza wrote, ‘though crude and offensive to some, did not convey an imminent threat and was made in the context of complaining about government activity,’ and therefore did not violate the statute.

‘The words here are not inherently likely to provoke violent reaction, they were not directed at anyone in particular, and could not be interpreted as threatening any particular action,’ Seibel said.”

Seibel did dismiss the claims against the officers who arrested Barboza. The matter is scheduled for a settlement conference on Oct. 6.