SCRANTON - A Scranton 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.
Magisterial 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 "may be considered by some to be offensive, vulgar and imprudent," Gallagher wrote, "it is "protected speech pursuant to the First Amendment."
Herb was cited after Patrick Gilman, a police officer who lives near her, called authorities to complain.
At a hearing Monday, Gilman testified that he was at home when his 12-year-old daughter ran in and said she had heard loud curses from a house down the street. Gilman said he had yelled to Herb to "watch your mouth." He said she had cursed at him instead. That was 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 in the last 20 years had established that "colorful language" isn't illegal. He praised the judge's ruling.
ACLU staff attorney Valerie Burch added Friday: "Police do not have the legal authority to enforce etiquette."