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Two men convicted for posting vulgar fliers about officials

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         KENTUCKY         Privacy         Mar 28, 2002    

Two men convicted for posting vulgar fliers about officials

  • A jury found the men guilty on numerous charges of harassing communications after circulating sexually explicit leaflets about a mayor, a local judge and a state senator.

Two Kentucky men were convicted last month on harassing communications charges for posting vulgar fliers about Richmond, Ky., government officials and their families.

Steve Womack and James Crazy Snake Blake were charged last May with harassing communications, a misdemeanor, and harassment. A Madison County jury on Feb. 27 convicted Womack on five counts and Blake on eight counts of harassing communications. Neither will receive jail time, but each will pay a $250 fine. Harassment charges were dropped.

A third man, Gregory Tucker, was charged along with Womack and Blake but was acquitted.

One of the fliers referred to the mayor’s daughter as a “hag” and said the mayor’s son-in-law was “porkin d’ hag.” Another flier portrayed the mayor as Olive Oil asking for cocaine and a senator as Popeye. The senator was also labeled in the flier as a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Prosecuting the three men under the harassing communications law was a source of contention in court.

The law says a person engages in harassing communications when he speaks or acts “with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, communicates . . . in a manner which causes annoyance or alarm and serves no purpose of legitimate communication,” or if a person “makes a telephone call, whether or not conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication.”

Kirk Bierbauer, Blake’s attorney, said the men were wrongfully arrested and prosecuted for something that was not criminal. He said there were “zero grounds” for applying the harassing communications law to the defendants. But, he added, officials used their political clout to get the police involved.

“They knew they would lose a libel suit,” Bierbauer said of the public officials.

But Special Prosecutor Harry Rothgerber, in a Louisville Courier Journal article last May, said: “Any civil remedy (such as a libel suit) is separate from this, but I don’t believe we should ignore this persistent and harassing behavior.”

Some of the fliers posted in Madison County made references to the sexuality and sexual behavior of a local senator, the mayor and a judge. Bierbauer said the fliers contained “South Park-type humor.”

“You have no right in this country to not be offended,” Bierbauer said. “Unpopular speech has to be protected.”

Bierbauer also said the harassing communications law applies to private listeners receiving messages in private places. According to Bierbauer, the fliers were posted in public, and public officials acquired the fliers through the police, making the law even less applicable to the defendants.

Michael Dean, Greg Tucker’s attorney, said criminalizing the defendants’ actions was a “retaliatory action” by the mayor, Richmond city officials and the Richmond Police Department in an attempt to silence the defendants about the issues that sparked the fliers — most of which were not vulgar. Only five fliers were involved with the criminal charges. Other fliers related to tax and property issues and other city business.

Bierbauer said that punishing the men under the harassing communications law endangers First Amendment rights.

“We can’t start defining what is legitimate and what is not legitimate communication,” he said. “Even if everybody would have been acquitted, the punishment is in prosecuting the people.”

KG


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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