Speeder Demands Right to Be Obnoxious

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A man who crossed out the Catskills village name “Liberty” on his speeding ticket and replaced it with “Tyranny” and “Fuck your shitty town bitches,” sued two police officers who then arrested him for harassment.
     Willian Barboza, 22, of Connecticut, sued Liberty police Det. Steven D’Agata and police Officer Melvin Gorr, in Federal Court.
     Barboza was cited for speeding in May 2010, and says he pleaded guilty and paid the fine with his profanity-laced missive the next month.
     He say in the complaint that he “was merely expressing his frustration toward the Village of Liberty and engaging in protected speech under the First Amendment.”
     But the officers and the village judge did not take his insults lightly.
     Barboza claims he was “ordered to appear in court, arrested and handcuffed, and prosecuted under New York’s Aggravated Harassment statute, Penal Law § 240.30(1)(a).”
     That misdemeanor prohibits “transmitting or delivering any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
     Barboza recounts the Oct. 18, 2012 hearing in his 9-page complaint:
     “In open court, Justice [Brian P.] Rourke held up plaintiff’s payment letter and lectured him about plaintiff’s language. At this time, defendants Steven D’Agata and Melvin Gorr arrested plaintiff for aggravated harassment and placed him in handcuffs inside the courtroom, in full view of the approximately 30 to 40 individuals who had to appear in court that day.”
     That judge eventually recused himself and was replaced with Town of Fallsburg Justice Ivan Kalter, who reasoned: “Without doubt the defendant’s comment was crude, vulgar, inappropriate, and clearly intended to ‘annoy.’
     “Nevertheless, it is not a threat, it does not contain ‘fighting words,’ or create an ‘imminent danger.’ While it might seem to fall within the four corners of the aforesaid statute, it is nevertheless subservient to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which provides for and allows a broad range of ‘free speech’ in the nature of opinion and public comment. … [N]o citation is necessary for this court to determine that the language under the circumstances here, offensive as it is, is protected.” according to the complaint.
     Barboza seeks compensatory damages and declaratory judgment that the statute under which he was charged is unconstitutional.
     He is represented by Stephen Bergstein with Bergstein & Ullrich, of Chester.

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