Obiter Dicta

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Notoriety can be a funny thing. Having it means you’re famous, though usually not for an especially good reason. Being featured on a “Wanted” poster, for instance, gets you plenty of exposure but few dinner invitations–especially in your hometown.

Picture this: A man walks into a country store in Etna, Maine, as he has done countless times over the years, only this time something doesn’t seem quite right.

The beef jerky and chew­ing tobacco are still in the same place, so that’s not it. Ahh, then it must be that handmade poster on the cash register with his face on it, the one labeling him a terrorist who is “assumed to be armed and dangerous.”

Brad Graves doesn’t consider himself a terrorist, and he doesn’t want others to do so, either. So he removed the poster from the cash register and paid a visit to a local attorney. Who made the poster and put it there in the first place? The store’s owner, Ronald Hicks. He thought it would be a hoot. He figured Graves–a friend and frequent custom­er–would get a chuckle or two out of it as well.

He was wrong.

Graves filed a defamation lawsuit against Hicks in Penobscot Coun­ty Superior Court, and is seeking $10,000 for damage to his repu- tation and for punitive damages, ac­cording to Hicks’ attorney, Terence Harrigan.

“This is the kind of case that gives lawyers a bad name,” Harrigan says. “It was a joke gone bad.” Joke or not, Graves’ attorney, Brett Baber, isn’t laughing. “Terrorism,” he says, “is something that one does not joke about.”

Board Walk

Thieves Are Main Ingredient in These Sandwiches, With Humble Pie for Dessert

Judges on both the left and right coasts have put a Hawthorne-esque spin on recent sentences. Offenders convicted of theft have been ordered to appear in public wearing sandwich boards that proclaim their crimes, á la The Scarlet Letter.

Shawn Gementera was convicted of stealing mail from mailboxes in San Francisco. He lost his appeal of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s order to wear a sandwich board stating “I stole mail. This is my punishment” in capital letters. Gementera is to stand in front of a U.S. Post Office for 100 hours.

Gementera’s attorney, Arthur Wach­tel, has reservations about Walker’s ruling. “The idea of humiliation has some appeal,” he says, though he feels “it has no place in the sentencing scheme in this country.”

But he adds, diplomatically, “Judge Walker is known for being very thoughtful and independent.”

In Salisbury, Md., the misdeed was a pump-and-run at a gas station/mini mart. Sher­elle Pur­nell (left) was observed on the station’s surveillance camera as she drove away without paying for $4.52 worth of gasoline.

Reportedly at the urging of the station’s manager, U.S. District Court Judge D. William Simpson sentenced Purnell, 18, to three hours of standing in front of Gordy’s Tiger Mart while wearing a sandwich board bear­ing the words “I was caught stealing gas.” Purnell showed up late, but dutifully served her sentence as motorists honked and yelled comments.

We could be on to something here. Maybe soon we’ll see sandwich boards that say “I sent spam” or “I talked on my cell phone while driving.”

Stories by Bangor Daily News, the Recorder, Salisbury Daily Times; Research by Wendell LaGrand.

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