Circ activation contest

What's OK to say? Man challenges law banning offensive speech

2012-11-13T22:19:00Z 2012-11-14T14:43:41Z What's OK to say? Man challenges law banning offensive speechThe Associated Press The Associated Press
November 13, 2012 10:19 pm  • 

The Montana Supreme Court could be left sorting out which profane words are OK to hurl at someone as it weighs the case of a man who argues a sexual slur he used against a public employee is constitutionally protected speech.

Randall Jay Dugan of Belgrade used a sexual slur with a Gallatin County Victim Assistance Program worker during an October 2009 phone call, after the worker said she would not help him obtain a protection order against his children's mother, who was to be released from prison. He then hung up.

Dugan was convicted under the state's Privacy in Communications law, which prohibits the use of electronic communication to offend another person with obscene, lewd or profane language.

Dugan's public defender, Kristen Larson, argued the state law is overly broad and violates free-speech rights in both the Montana and United States constitutions.

She argued that Dugan did not call with the intention to harass, but only used the slur after becoming exasperated with the call.

"It is important to remember that this case began with Mr. Dugan needing help," Larson said of Dugan's worries over the mother's release from jail. "He was afraid she would take his children."

The argument faced some skeptical questions from the justices.

"Are you saying the constitution no longer allows us to protect that public servant from being reamed out in a lewd way by someone who calls on the phone?" asked Justice James Rice.

Dugan called the female Gallatin County victim services' representative a "f------ c---."

Justice Brian Morris said the court could be put in the position of sorting out which naughty words are OK.

"If he had called the victim here a b----, would that violate the statue?" Morris asked. "How about a jerk? How do we develop this sliding scale of words that violate, and words that don't?"

Other Montana Supreme Court cases have held that words exchanged in face-to-face confrontations that could reasonably start a fight are not protected speech.

State prosecutors argued that Dugan's slur constituted such "fighting words" that are not protected by the First Amendment. They argue the law is fair warning on what sort of conduct is forbidden.

Assistant Attorney General Tammy Hinderman argued that Dugan had earlier been loud and disruptive in a meeting in the county office and had been told to call back later — which led to the exchange he was charged with. And she argued the county worker has a protected privacy interest from such abusive language while in her office.

But justices quizzed prosecutors on the case, which involves telephone calls, emails or other communication technology. They pointed out that similar prosecutions around the country that have withstood constitutional scrutiny included repeated occasions of profanity over a long period of time — while Dugan used the sexual slur and then hung up.

Morris asked if he could be prosecuted under the statute if a salesman called his home, prompting him to get angry and curse at the caller. Hinderman said he could be.

The Gallatin County Justice Court has been waiting to sentence the 51-year-old Dugan, of Belgrade, until after the appeal on the constitutionality of the statute is sorted out. Montana law says that violating the statue is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500 on the first offense.

Montana Department of Corrections records show Dugan is on parole for distribution of drugs. The Bozeman Chronicle reported that in 2011, Dugan fired a gun at his home, then went to a local hospital without the gun and threatened to shoot people from child protective services.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - November 15, 2012 11:09 am
    Do you have even a clue, SERIAL KILLER, as to what "communism" is? Judging from your response, Id say you do NOT, and in your mind it is just one of those pejorative words ignorant people fling abojut because it "sounds bad".

    Are you actually bragging about your background in a collection agency? I would think that was a matter for shame. Talk about mean-spirited bullies (no, I haven't been a victim). But I remember a co-worker receiving such a call at the office. He was a decent, hard-working guy. The collector told him he "should go back to Mexico where he belonged."

    Is that sort of tactic something to be proud of?.
  2. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - November 15, 2012 9:45 am
    Agreed
  3. HLNA910
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    HLNA910 - November 14, 2012 12:22 pm
    While I completely agree he never EVER should've called someone that and she most certainly should never have to put up with that kind of verbal assault... does this really consitute all this legal b.s? I mean... he obvioulsy was dealing with a very sensitive and highly emotional situation. Anyone fearing for their children's safety is apt to lose control when unable to protect them.
    If he had threatened her I would think differently. But calling someone a f****** c*** shouldn't be against the law. It is terribly bad manners and she should end the call immediately with a promise of never answering his concerns again, but it is not worth prosecuting. Let's use our tax dollars for real criminals!!
  4. Hermas
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    Hermas - November 14, 2012 11:21 am
    A convicted drug dealer who fired a gun in his home, threatened to shoot people, and can't control his emotions when on the phone is worried that someone will take his children away?

    If he wins his case (which the taxpayers are underwriting) can we then call him an irresponsible and self-centered f**ker?
  5. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - November 14, 2012 9:08 am
    Sticks and stones
  6. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - November 14, 2012 8:28 am
    The worker on the phone, whether employed by state government, the cable company, or any place, has the right to do his or her job without being subjected to abusive language. The fact that you aren't getting what you want is not an excuse to become profane or aggressive. Personally, I would have ended the call and that would have been the end of the issue if I had been that employee, perhaps noting the issue in his case file. But considering that lately, people act out their aggression with weapons, it was prudent of the worker to report the issue. She wasn't at some out-of-state call center; she was in a local office where the caller could likely just walk right in and shoot up the place if he was angry enough. With freedom comes responsibility. I am free to drive down the road, but not to drive the wrong way up Prospect. I am free to say things politically which other people disagree with, sometimes vehemently, but I may not make threats or abuse others verbally without consequences.
  7. SerialThriller
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    SerialThriller - November 14, 2012 8:05 am

    This is communism at it BEST. Now 'the man' even regulates what we can and cant voice an angry opinion about? We've ALL had a few words with another. EVERY SINGLE ONE of us. I worked the legal desk in a collections firm for 11 yrs, I heard all manners of foulness. lol. Since WHEN is cussing someone out illegal? Fear the future man....fear the future.
  8. PhilipCook
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    PhilipCook - November 14, 2012 2:42 am
    He already has enough on his plate, going after him with the Communications Law in cases like this could trigger a violent reaction. It would be better to warn him that he will not be entitled to services if he can't control his language, behavior, etc.

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