Prosecutor refuses to prosecute case of woman jailed for cursingPublished 12:33pm Thursday, January 10, 2013
Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter is refusing to act as prosecutor in the case of a woman who was jailed for 11 days for cursing in the Berrien County South County courthouse in Niles.
Cotter sent a letter this week to Judge Dennis Wiley — the judge who charged LaRue Ford with contempt of court — stating he doesn’t believe there is a legal basis to pursue the charge of contempt based on the charging document, which simply says Ford used profanity in the clerk’s office on Dec. 4.
“After researching this matter, I have serious doubts over whether a contempt citation as alleged in this charging document can be legally sustained where the only allegation is that the defendant used profanity in a court clerk’s office outside the direct presence of the judge,” Cotter wrote. “Because I do not have the authority to dismiss this contempt citation brought by the court, my office does not intend to appear at this contempt hearing nor prosecute this matter on behalf of the court.”
Ford is scheduled to appear before Judge Charles LaSata Friday in the Berrien Circuit Court in St. Joseph. There, Ford’s lawyers will be arguing the case should be dismissed.
Miriam Auckerman, an ACLU lawyer representing Ford, called the situation highly unusual.
“I would think that given that here both the prosecution and defense agree there is no basis for the charges that it would be quite persuasive to the appellate court,” Auckerman said.
In Cotter’s letter to Wiley, Cotter said it would be possible for the court to appoint a private prosecutor to pursue the charges.
If the case is dismissed, Auckerman said she doesn’t know if Ford will pursue legal action against the court.
“Our priority now is to get the criminal charges against Ms. Ford dismissed, so I am not going to comment on things that might happen later,” Auckerman said. “I do think the judge made a mistake here and the fact that the prosecutor recognizes that, too.”
Ford was arrested on Dec. 4 after a staffer in the clerk’s office of the south county courthouse in Niles overheard her swearing as she left the office.
Wiley charged Ford with contempt and set her bond at 10 percent of $5,000. Ford came up with the $500 and was freed.
Ford’s bond was originally set at 10 percent of $5,000 on Dec. 4. She paid the bond and was released, but couldn’t pay the bond when Wiley raised it to the full $5,000 during another court hearing Dec. 18.
She spent the next 11 days in jail — including over Christmas — until her attorneys filed an emergency appeal to lower the bond. Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Al Butzbaugh lowered the bond and Ford was released Dec. 28.
Ford’s lawyers filed a motion Tuesday for Judge Wiley to disqualify himself from hearing the case, but Wiley refused. At that point, the matter went to the appellate court in Berrien County.