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Woman Misses a Chicago Christmas After Being Jailed For Swearing

A Michigan judge tosses an Indiana woman in the slammer for muttering frustrated nothings, after she was given the run-around by his courthouse on a traffic fine. It’s not the first time he’s come down hard on someone who didn’t take kindly to his office.

This is so weird (via):

It started when she couldn’t get a driver’s license in Indiana because she had an unpaid fine in Michigan. So she paid the fine, but still couldn’t get the license:

Reynolds said Ford made several attempts to discover the reason for the problem with the Niles courthouse. Finally, she went to the Niles clerk’s office where it was discovered she needed to pay a $50 reinstatement fee. Ford then cursed in frustration as she left the office, Reynolds said.

Specifically she said that it was some “f-ing sh—,” which is impolite but not, from how her problem is described, inaccurate. For which she got busted: “The charging document — a bench warrant — only reads Ford ‘used profanity in the clerk’s office on Dec. 4.’” She was supposed to be in Chicago for Christmas, but she was in jail.

The judge, Dennis Wiley, is not someone who takes kindly to heated language, which led to one of his decisions getting spiked by the Michigan Appellate Court. If you think calling a bureaucratic snafu (itself an acronym that might get you heat in Wiley’s court, if he’s aware of its origins) “f-ing sh—” is bad, try this:

Judge Butzbaugh, it shall come to pass; if thou continue not to hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all that is right; which I command thee this day, that all these Curses shall come upon you and your family, curses shalt be in the City of St. Joseph and Cursed shalt thou be in the field, cursed shall come upon you and your family and over take thee; cursed shall be the fruit of thy body. The Lord shall smite thee with consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning. They the demons shall Pursue thee until thou persist.

That’s the Rev. Edward Pickney raining hellfire on Judge Alfred Butzbaugh, a colleague of Judge Wiley; Pickney had been sentenced to five years probation for “giving valuable consideration to influence the manner of voting by a person,” after being accused of buying votes at $5 a pop to recall a Benton Harbor commissioner.

Among the commands in Pickney’s order was that he couldn’t assault or harass people (fair enough) or defame or demean them (okay, that’s odd), “including the use, through any electronic or print media… of the mail, e-mail, or internet” (borderline First Amendment violation). Well, telling someone that the Lord shall smite them with consumption and with a fever and with an inflamation and with extreme burning can be taken as demeaning, so the case went to a probation revocation hearing held by Judge Wiley. Jonathan Turley writes:

What is particularly bizarre is that Judge Dennis Wiley (Butzbaugh recused himself) held a probation revocation hearing where it held from Rev. William Wylie Kellerman, a minister in the United Methodist Church, who gave expert testimony that the “threatening” paragraph in the editorial was a paraphrase of several verses from the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible.

[snip]

Kellerman went on to explain that Deuteronomy described a covenant between God and men and that the curses are visited upon men by God. That appears to have been enough for the court which revoked his probation over the use of childish curses. It is hard to see which is most abusive Butzbaugh’s original order or Wiley’s revocation hearing.

The appellate court was somewhat confused by the order, and Wiley’s literal reading of it (emphasis mine):

In the present case, defendant was convicted for paying $5 to persons to vote in favor of the recall of Yarbrough and for possessing AV ballots. The 15th condition of defendant’s probation prohibited defendant from engaging in defamatory and demeaning communications. The condition was a blanket prohibition on such behavior; defendant was prohibited from making defamatory or demeaning communications about any person, including coworkers, neighbors, and congregants. Such a blanket prohibition is not directly related to defendant’s rehabilitation of the election law crimes he committed, which impugned the integrity of the electoral process, or to the public’s protection from a repetition of the crimes.

People might be nicer if, as a condition of their probation, they couldn’t say anything bad about anyone, ever. Unfortunately it’s not really constitutional (the final episode of Seinfeld does not count as stare decisis); sending someone to prison for three to ten years for it is extra-double not constitutional. Unfortunately, it seems Judge Wiley didn’t learn much from the appellate court.

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