Barbara Stone was only able to get out of jail when she agreed to stop blogging. Patty Reid is on the lam. Cary-Andrew Crittenden may be facing further jail time for his efforts to inform others about problems in the Santa Clara County legal system. And Ginny Johnson is under a gag order which nearly eventuated in a close encounter with a jail cell.
All these individuals are experiencing, up close and personal, the limits of free speech when that speech inconveniences someone more powerful than they. Twenty, thirty years ago none of these individuals would have faced the grave legal problems they now confront. But thirty years ago, the legal system in the US was not yet in free fall.
The devolution of the US legal system is evidenced in the existence of a dual legal system, wherein there abides two parallel—and often contradictory—systems of law. One system is the written code—the Constitutional and statutory mandates. The other system is what a judge does in his courtroom. And increasingly, judges are acting like monarchs, unaccountable to anyone.
This is well expressed when First Amendment (freedom of speech) issues collide with governmental imperatives. Prior restraint, that is the imposition of gags or inhibitions on speech not yet spoken, is illegal in the US, according to the written code. Increasingly, however, judges are issuing orders which amount to prior restraint when an individual’s speech becomes politically inconvenient.
A previous article discussed the plight of Barbara Stone, whose mother is under a guardianship in Dade County, Florida. Upon visiting her mother in the home in which the guardian had placed Helen Stone, Barbara was shocked to find her mother emaciated and on a feeding tube. Barbara then allegedly took her mother to lunch.
She was subsequently arrested and charged with “custody interference,” and up until recently was confined to house arrest, an electronic tracking bracelet ensuring her compliance.
The problem was that Barbara would not shut up. She filed a number of lawsuits against guardianship court Judge Michael Genden and also against guardian Jacqueline Hertz and her attorney, Roy Lustig, as well as criminal court judge Victoria Brennan and Governor Rick Scott. She also launched a blog with the purpose of exposing the parties involved in what she termed the continuing abuse of her mother. Tiring of her complaints, Judge Genden charged her with criminal contempt for failing to show up at a court hearing and Barbara went into lock-up.
This past week, Stone, who is licensed to practice law in the state of New York, secured her release from jail at a significant price. She has agreed to stop blogging and also, significantly, to not file further papers in her mother’s case without a lawyer. In other words, the price of her freedom was prior restraint.