Quick Hits – We Love Free Speech Until We Don’t!

Though I’ve certainly enjoyed some of our exchanges, I find John Kass’ Chicago Tribune columns to be dense, bizarrely conservative, and utterly illogical, so I generally avoid ’em. But I’ve never emailed his editors demanding he be fired – I simply move on to Steve Chapman’s piece.

So, it always baffles me when my adoring throng routinely insists that various social media venues block my columns. Apparently, not reading them isn’t nearly enough for some folks and free speech only goes as far their eminently delicate sensibilities.

But that ain’t the way the First Amendment works. The Bill of Rights provides no guarantee that some speech won’t disturb you, a stark reality that’s completely lost on the Geneva Police, especially in regard to their propensity for applying “creative charges.”

Remember! Those are their words, not mine!

Freedom of Speech

Of course, we’re talking about the Geneva man who was recently acquitted on three patently absurd disorderly conduct charges regarding anonymous racist snail mail sent to seemingly random social media users.

Taking a cue from President Trump, this individual excoriated his targets for their outright or tacit support of various liberal causes. While that’s certainly a bleep move, the “victims” should’ve simply issued a short sigh, tossed the missive in the circular file, and gotten on with their lives.

But no! Nothing is ever that simple, especially when it comes to my beloved Tri-Cities. Those folks just couldn’t chalk it up to the sad state of the hyper-partisan debate and let it go. They had to bring the Geneva Police into it and turn the proverbial mole hill into a full-blown Mount Everest.

The “victims” claimed it was the letter author taking the time to look up their addresses that frightened them and set this “incident” apart.

Really? As a result of my landline era journalistic training, give me a mere five minutes and I can find absolutely anyone, even if they have a common last name. Give me ten minutes and I’ll even come up with a judge’s address. It’s one of the vast “benefits” of that thing we call the “Internet.”

What the Geneva Police should’ve done is filed a report, filed the letters, and told the recipients that, since they contained no implied or direct threats, there was nothing more they could do. But no! Because they had nothing better to do, they thought they had a quick publicity win, and likely as a result of their relationship with victim Jill Johnson, they decided to turn a non-event into the crime of the century.

Please note that no real journalist would ever out the name of a crime victim, but our three letter recipients have actively sought the press to get their story in print.

LoPiccolo

Sadly, the only thing that really surprises me is that Kane County Associate Judge Salvatore LoPiccolo, Jr. actually had the cojones to find our missive writer not guilty. He said he found “the contents of these letters to be vulgar and offensive, but the state did not meet its burden of proof that the letters’ content were fighting words.”

Exactly! And isn’t that exactly what a judge is supposed to do? Put your personal predilections aside and primarily rule on the basis of the law? One can only hope LoPiccolo’s judiciousness (pun intended) rubs off on the rest of the 16th Circuit, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for very long.

Matt Haiduk

Matt Haiduk

And the Judge isn’t the only one who deserves credit here. I told him he was absolutely nuts to go with a First Amendment defense, something most judges can’t begin to handle especially with a disorderly conduct charge, but Geneva Attorney Matt Haiduk stuck with it and made it work.

C’mon! We all know “disorderly conduct” is a BS charge that basically amounts to contempt of cop.

Were it me sitting at the defense table, I would’ve argued that the “victims” were neither “alarmed” nor “disturbed” because anyone who regularly avails themselves of social media knows it’s a proposition perpetually fraught with peril. Have you seen some of the bleep out there?

And this verdict certainly does nothing to contradict the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office’s contention that the Geneva Police are beyond incompetent (they say it a bit differently), screwing up case after case.

But the real irony here is the aforementioned Ms. Johnson, a public figure by virtue of her recent school board run, is exponentially worse than our acquitted letter writer. Her scathing (non-racist) social media attacks, many anonymous, are so legendary that when she announced her candidacy, at least a dozen people came forward to warn a candidate I advised of what was likely to come.

Johnson told reporters she was “disappointed with the verdict,” but she, of all people, should be elated that her previous blistering attacks won’t be coming back to haunt her.

The bottom line is, if you don’t want people to “look you up” or have your fragile self-definition challenged, then don’t go on social media. Y’all should see some of the anonymous snail mail I get, but I simply laugh at the fact that I’m the most important person in some sad folks’ lives and send it off to my attorneys to entertain them.

As my sainted mother used to say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

And if I’m still standing after all these years, your average Facebooker has nothing to worry about. Get over yourselves! You’re not nearly that important!

11 thoughts on “Quick Hits – We Love Free Speech Until We Don’t!

  1. Get over yourselves! You’re not nearly that important!
    Should be written in bold letters at every school, public arena and on top of every nominating petition in bold capital letters

  2. So what is this guy going to do next, since neither the Geneva PD nor the Kane County State’s Attorney office can understand simple 1st Amendment Rights?

    Can he sue for anything? These people are the ones who are supposed to know and sworn to uphold the 1st Amendment…Right?

    • John,

      There’s nothing he can do at this point. It’s not malicious prosecution because, unlike what the GPD has done with me, they haven’t gone after this guy before.

      Had the judge outright dismissed it – and the defense filed that motion – they might have had a case, but even that’s not a great course of action.

      So the best you can do is walk away knowing you beat the Geneva Police.

      Jeff

      • How does he recover his expenses of an attorney? He’s just out because the “professionals” do not know the 1st Amendment and it’s actual freedoms??

        You know the “professionals” that have gone onto school and Law School to KNOW the rights of individuals and to have the integrity not to prosecute.

        Maybe I am asking to much from these people.

      • He doesn’t! When I win my current appeal, I will sue the City of Geneva and the Geneva Police because they’ve repeatedly targeted me and an officer said some really stupid things on the stand.

        But I certainly haven’t been reimbursed for my past successful legal defenses. That’s just the way it works.

      • His name, face and everything has been put online, papers and maybe tv… How does one recover from that?

      • John,

        Have you noticed how teflon I am? Despite the Geneva Police’s and State’s Attorney’s efforts to silence and diminish me, my journalistic efforts are stronger than ever.

        Part of that is the capacity to frame and reframe a message. Another factor is my willingness to litigate which correctly scares a lot of people.

        But the biggest part is, the average American has the attention span of a gnat. They’re already moving on to the next thing and our letter writer will quickly be forgotten.

  3. sorry to change the subject but I just went to amazon to buy your book, will you be having a sale soon? It’s a little pricey unless it’s a hard cover maybe

    • Andrea,

      No problem, I understand. There can’t be a sale because, given the cost to print a large full color book, Amazon won’t let me sell it for much less.

      But within the next couple of weeks I’ll have the Kindle variety up and that will be a mere $29.95.

      Jeff

  4. Meh. I understand what you’re saying and I mostly agree with that this guy shouldn’t have been criminally charged. But pardon me if I don’t weep with indignation over the inconvenience he suffered. He sounds like a card-carrying jerk.

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