Of all the places that you would cherish freedom of speech, surely one is in the shadow of a courthouse.
Last month I blogged how two men were arrested for telling lawyer jokes. Well — surprise, surprise — the grand jury nobilled it.
A sidewalk comedian won over his toughest crowd yet on Monday when a grand jury declined to indict him on charges filed after he and a friend told lawyer jokes outside a courthouse, his lawyer said.
The man, Harvey Kash, and the friend, Carl Lanzisera, were doing their routine last month while waiting in line outside Nassau County's First District Court in Hempstead when one bystander, who identified himself as a lawyer, complained. Court officers, who were also not amused, clapped handcuffs on the amateur comics and charged them with disorderly conduct.
The men complained that their constitutional right to make fun of lawyers was being violated, and the case drew international attention.Punch Line for Jokester: No Indictment by Grand Jury, by Bruce Lambert, New York Times, 8 February 2004
Just in case you're reading this after the NY Times article expires out of their free section — when will these idiots realize that micropayments are the answer instead of huge per-article fees — here's the Newsday version:
A grand jury delivered the punchline for a senior citizen charged with disorderly conduct after telling lawyer jokes outside a Long Island courthouse: charge dismissed. No kidding.
Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said Tuesday that a grand jury considered the evidence in the case and voted to dismiss.Man who told lawyer joke gets last laugh as grand jury dismisses case, by Pat Milton, Newsday, 8 February 2005
After I blogged the original arrest then the lawyers chimed in. (What planet do these reptiles live on?)
It is, of course, the constitutional right of every American citizen to laugh at the law and, in the case of these two activists, even ridicule officers of the court. But to protect the integrity of the court, one needs to do any guffawing outside the courthouse. There is a legal imperative to create an environment that provides a fair, solemn and impartial forum from which to decide the fate of individuals and institutions. History reminds us what can happen when courtrooms become circuses, or worse.
But no one should shout "fire" in a crowded theater to proclaim one's right to freedom of speech. Mocking the legal system in a courthouse can be a corrosive force to jurisprudence. If permitted, it would attack the very fabric of our democracy by creating a judicial environment that ridicules and derides those who not just serve the courts but, far more important, those citizens who seek justice. Ultimately, scornful, derisive behavior inside our courthouses would threaten the very laughter that is so crucial to who we are as a free and open society.Lois Carter Schlissel, Esquire, managing partner of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein
Anyone who has participated in the legal process, or been on the receiving end of it, knows that the crooked racket judges and attorneys run for their own benefit is the real joke. Except that joke just ain't funny.
Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line he doesn't really mean to cross — it just happens — and if you cross it enough times, it disappears forever, and then you're nothing but another lawyer joke...
— Rudy Baylor, "The Rainmaker" by John Grisham