Wiley wrong to jail woman for cursingPublished 9:14pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013
By now, most of you know about the case of LaRue Ford, a woman who spent 11 days in jail because she used profanity in the clerk’s office at the South County Courthouse in Niles.
Ford was overheard saying something to the effect of “this is some f-ing, sh—”as she was walking out the door, her lawyers claim.
Ford was reportedly frustrated with the clerk’s office after spending weeks trying to settle an unpaid traffic ticket.
While we don’t condone cursing in public, we don’t condone sending someone to jail for cursing, either.
Ford was unable to post a $5,000 bond and spent 11 days in jail, including over Christmas. She was only released after ACLU lawyers heard about her case and filed a successful emergency appeal to lower her bond.
While profanity might be disagreeable, it is also speech protected by the First Amendment.
Our jails are already overcrowded, so it’s ridiculous to imagine jailing everyone overheard cursing in public.
It is also worth noting Ford wasn’t charged with cursing. She was charged with contempt.
Being in contempt means a person is somehow disrupting a court’s ability to function.
Common examples of contempt include disruptive behavior in a courtroom, failure to appear in court when required or failure to testify when required.
Although Ford cursed, she did it outside the courtroom and was not disrupting the court’s ability to function based on all the information currently available to the public.
Despite all this, Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley still decided there was enough reason to charge her with contempt.
His decision is a head scratcher at best, and a misuse of contempt power at worst — unless there is a lot more to this story than what we’ve heard.
Ford’s lawyers are attempting to disqualify Wiley from hearing the case and getting the case dropped altogether.
They argue that witnesses, including the person who heard Ford curse, are Wiley’s subordinates and, therefore, Wiley is biased. They also believe, like we do, that Ford’s actions did not warrant a charge of contempt.
Our justice system is supposed to protect the rights of its citizens.
In this case, it put a woman in jail for 11 days for cursing — over Christmas.
Bah, humbug, Wiley. Bah, humbug.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the editorial board.