Obiter Dicta

Wake The @#*% Up!

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When the phone rings at 2 or 3 a.m., you’ve either won the Nobel Peace Prize or it’s bad news. There’s almost never an in-between. Almost.

Thomas Ray, an associate circuit judge in St. Francois County, Mo., was on the receiving end of a wee-hours phone call in early 2003. He says the caller threatened him with physical harm and used vulgar language. “[He] said, ‘Judge, I am going to kick your ass,’ ” Ray says. “I hung up the phone and called the police.”

After returning the call and ascertaining its origin, the police visited a party where at least two attendees had engaged in a practice known as “drunk dialing” making untoward phone calls while inebriated.

Gabriel Wich­man, 23, of Farm­ing­ton and Ryan Fleming, 22, of Bonne Terre allegedly intended to call Ray’s daughter–whom Wich­man knew–but had the mis­for­tune of reaching the judge instead. The pair were arrested and reportedly confessed to the call. They were charged with misdemeanor harassment.

In January, Wichman and Fleming got wakeup calls of their own from Kelly Wayne Parker, an associate circuit judge in Iron County. News reports indicate that Parker ordered the pair to write apologies to Ray, as well as eight to 10-page reports titled “How Prac­tical Jokes Have Serious Conse­quences.”

The sentences included 40 hours of community service for Wichman, who supplied Ray’s number at the party, and 80 hours for Fleming, who made the call.

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Chat Room Churlishness Escalates Into Courtroom Conflict as One Man Cries Foul

The anonymity of the Internet is often considered a license to abandon civility and indulge one’s base instincts. But if you’re gonna dish it out, shouldn’t you be able to take it?

That question could be posed to a Medina, Ohio, man who has been trading insults with two other men in an America Online chat room for years.

George Gilles­pie finally decided he’d had enough, and he is suing the men, as well as AOL.

Gillespie’s complaint was quoted as stating that Michael Marlowe of Fayette, Ala., and Robert Charpen­tier of Salem, Ore., harassed and insulted him to such a degree that “no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.”

He is su­ing AOL for not can­celing the men’s accounts after he lodged complaints against them. Gillespie is reportedly seeking damages of $25,000.

Marlowe and Charpentier have claimed, in published reports, that Gillespie has been known to fire off particularly mean-spirited diatribes against them, and that he could have simply chosen to click the chat room’s “ignore” button to shut them out.

Free speech experts don’t put much stock in cases spawned by online spats. “They usually don’t go anywhere,” says Washington, D.C., lawyer Megan Gray, “because they lack merit or no party has any interest in litigating the merits.”

Paul Levy, an attorney with Wash­ington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, doesn’t take sides but offers this:

“You have a range of claims that are filed over speech on the Inter­net. Some are quite valid; some are an eight-letter word that begins with ‘b’ and ends with ‘t.’ ”

Written by Brian Sullivan; Stories by and the Akron Beacon Journal; Research by Stephanie Francis Ward and Jill Schachner Chanen.

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