Driver Sues Cops After Being Arrested for Insulting Language On Ticket Payment Form

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
driver sues cops after being arrested for insulting language on ticket payment form

Remember these names: Detective Steven D’Agata and Officer Melvin Gorr of the Liberty, New York police department, as well as Town of Liberty Justice Brian P. Rourke and Assistant DA Joe Drillings. I want you to remember their names because regardless of the outcome of Barboza v. D’Agata & Gorr in United States District Court, those men all deserve to be roundly mocked. Frankly, they deserve to be fired and in the case of Rourke and Drillings, disbarred and then prosecuted for violating their oaths to act constitutionally. I’d call for some tarring and feathering as well, but at a time when those in government mostly use the levers of that government to help those they like and harm those they don’t, at a time of concern over partiality at the IRS and snooping at the NSA, one doesn’t want to be perceived as threatening those on the other side of the thin grey line. You might find yourself prosecuted for criticizing our public servants, just like Willian Barboza.

From Mr. Barboza’s complaint in Federal court:

8. On May 4, 2012, plaintiff was driving his vehicle on State Route 17 through the Town of Liberty. He was pulled over for speeding.

9. In early June 2012, plaintiff pled guilty by mail to the speeding ticket.

10. In August 2012, the Town of Liberty Court sent plaintiff a letter that accepted his guilty plea and provided information for payment of the fine. The letter also contained a payment form for plaintiff to complete in connection with his guilty plea.

11. On or about August 20, 2012, plaintiff filled out the payment form that accompanied the Town Court’s letter. Expressing frustration at the Village of Liberty, in sending in the paperwork in connection with his guilty plea, plaintiff wrote on the form, “FUCK YOUR SHITTY TOWN BITCHES.” He also crossed out the Town’s name, “Liberty” from the form, and wrote “TYRANNY” instead. Plaintiff then mailed in the form….

13. On September 26, 2012, Town of Liberty Justice Brian P. Rourke advised plaintiff in writing that his payment by mail was rejected and that he was ordered to appear in Town Court on October 18, 2012.

14. As directed, plaintiff appeared in the Town of Liberty Court in the early afternoon on October 18, 2012, driving approximately two hours from his home in Connecticut in order to make the appearance. In open court, Justice 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.

15. Defendants D’Agata and Gorr next escorted plaintiff from the courtroom and brought him to the Village of Liberty police station, where he was booked and fingerprinted and handcuffed to a bench.

16. After processing the plaintiff, defendant Gorr took plaintiff back to Town of Liberty Court where Justice Rourke told plaintiff that he was recusing himself from the case since he was party to it. Defendant Gorr then drove a handcuffed plaintiff to the Town of Fallsburg Court for arraignment. While driving plaintiff to the Town of Fallsburg Court, defendant Gorr told plaintiff that he did not engage in free speech because his written comment on the payment form had offended employees in the clerk’s office.

Fortunately, there was actually someone in the justice system that was more concerned with justice than with punishing someone for hurting the feelings of public servants. Justice Ivan Kalter of the Justice Court in the Town of Fallsburg is the hero of this story just as D’Agata, Gorr, Drillings and Rourke (remember those names, and mock them) are the villains. In his ruling dismissing the charges against Barboza, Justice Kalter couldn’t have been clearer that while Barboza’s behavior was offensive and indeed fell under the the statute for “Aggravated Harrassment”, his behavior was undoubtedly protected speech under the First Amendment.

Defendant is charged with Aggravated Harassment pursuant to Penal Law §240.30(1)(a) which allegedly occurred August 20,2012. It is alleged that Mr. [Barboza] signed a traffic payment correspondence with the words “FUCK YOUR SHITTY TOWN BITCHES” written across the top.

The aforesaid section of law is intended to prohibit communication “… with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”

Defendant now moves to dismiss together with other relief.

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.

Defendant has submitted an extensive brief with numerous citations. However, no citation is necessary for this Court to determine that the language under the circumstances here, offensive as it is, is protected. The charge is dismissed.

My guess is that the only reason Justice Rourke and ADA Drillings aren’t defendants in the Federal civil rights case is due to judicial and prosecutorial immunity but it’s likely that D’Agata and Gorr wouldn’t be getting sued if Rourke hadn’t gotten butthurt and then Drillings hadn’t boneheadedly decided to bring the case to trial and argue in state court that the prosecution was constitutionally proper. Unfortunately I don’t know who the “offended employees in the clerk’s office” were or I’d identify them for appropriate mockery as well.

Judge Kalter’s ruling here. Barboza’s complaint in Federal court. Hat tip to law prof Eugene Volokh.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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4 of 96 comments
  • Instant_Karma Instant_Karma on Jun 21, 2013

    So let's say I own a business and provide some good or service to someone then send them a bill and they pay me but includes a note that says, "FUCK YOU AND YOUR SHITTY BUSINESS." If I went to the police and tried to say that I was harassed and wanted someone arrested and charged over this they would tell me I was wasting their time. Guess it's a double standard when Johnny Law feels insulted.

    • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 21, 2013

      You would be lucky to get them to take any action if they attached the note to a rock and threw it through your window in many of the smaller towns I have lived in. Roll through town doing 2 m.p.h. over the limit though and they are there though. Looking at you Tyrone, Georgia

  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 21, 2013

    I am sweating...The last time I wrote a check to the IRS I wrote some nonsense in the "for" line of the check. Nothing profane, but enough that anyone who saw the check would know I wasn't really happy about writing it. If a "shitty little town" goes to this much trouble I think I am in serious doo doo with the IRS.

    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Jun 22, 2013

      Don't worry they already have reviewed all of your personal information and private communications obtained from No Such Agency, if they were going to move on you they would have by now.

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