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Pa. judge: First Amendment protects woman who cursed in frustration at malfunctioning toilet

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Posted: December 14, 2007 1:09 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    SCRANTON, Pa. — A woman who was cited for loudly cursing at her overflowing toilet — and then at a neighbor who told her to quiet down — has been acquitted on First Amendment grounds.
    District Judge Terrence Gallagher dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against Dawn Herb, 33, ruling Thursday that she was within her rights when she let loose a string of profanities Oct. 11.
    Although the language she used ‘‘may be considered by some to be offensive, vulgar and imprudent ... (it is) protected speech pursuant to the First Amendment,’’ the judge wrote.
    Herb was cited after Patrick Gilman, a police officer who lives near Herb, called authorities to complain.
    At a hearing Monday, Gilman testified that he was at home, off duty, when his 12-year-old daughter ran in and said she had heard loud curses coming from a house down the street.
    Gilman said he went outside, heard the bad language and yelled out to Herb to ‘‘watch your mouth.’’ He said that she cursed at him instead. That’s when Gilman called authorities.
    In Pennsylvania, someone can be convicted of disorderly conduct for using obscene language in a way that causes ‘‘public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.’’
    But Barry Dyller, who represented Herb on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, said rulings over the past 20 years have established that ‘‘colorful language’’ isn’t illegal. He praised the judge’s ruling.
    ‘‘He’s exactly right ... in his reasoning,’’ Dyller said. ‘‘And it’s important that the public understands this.’’
    Herb did not testify at the trial earlier this week, and her lawyer advised her not to speak to reporters. She could have faced up to 90 days in jail.

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