Everyone knows not to falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
And now a Bucks County man knows not to whisper "swine flu" in a teeming, germophobic courthouse.
Anthony DiCicco of Jamison learned that lesson yesterday when a judge found him in contempt for faking a diagnosis of the dreaded virus during jury duty over the summer.
He might as well have said, "I have the bubonic plague," noted Bucks County Judge Clyde W. Waite, who sentenced DiCicco to serve three days.
He won't serve it in jail. DiCicco was ordered to spend three days observing jury trials in court.
DiCicco, 24, was summoned for jury duty July 13. Lawyers promptly selected him as a juror in a medical-malpractice trial scheduled that day in front of Waite.
But upon returning from a lunch break, DiCicco pulled tipstaff Robert Krantz aside and said he was sick.
DiCicco said he had turned on his cell phone during lunch, Krantz testified, "and received a message from his doctor's office saying that he had swine flu and needed to come to the doctor's office for immediate treatment."
When Krantz relayed that information to the judge, Waite declared a mistrial and sent the entire jury home. Worse, Waite said, all who had come into contact with DiCicco that day - the entire jury pool and court personnel - assumed they had been exposed to the virus.
Christine Moran, a nurse practitioner at DiCicco's doctor's office, testified that there was no swine-flu diagnosis and no call made to DiCicco July 13.
DiCicco's claim "caused great alarm," court administrator Douglas Praul told Waite, not to mention "considerable cost to the court and the litigants."
Oddly enough, DiCicco testified yesterday, he had been eager to serve as a juror.
And he really had been sick. Just not with swine flu.
When he received his jury summons in May, he told the judge, "I was actually excited to come," having never served.
He was so eager, he said, that he misread the summons and showed up a month early, on June 13. That was a Saturday, and he found the courthouse closed.
Then, as the July date approached, DiCicco fell severely ill, he testified.
He was in bed for a week with a 104-degree fever, fatigue, and leg pain so severe he could not stand up, he said. "I had never felt so sick before," he said.
His mother, Susan, said she had been so worried that she stayed over at her son's house to care for him. She took him to the doctor, and said she had been told that his symptoms were consistent with swine flu, but that no further tests were needed unless he developed breathing problems.
By July 13, Anthony DiCicco said, he was feeling better and reported for jury duty as scheduled. He told no one he had been sick.
But after being seated as a juror, he began to feel ill.
"I started to lose my energy. My symptoms came back. I felt like I couldn't continue," he said.
Upset that he was still sick, he made up the story about the doctor's call, he said.
He spent the next three days in bed, he added, before returning to work.
Court officials' suspicions in July were raised by a tip from a fellow juror, Praul said.
DiCicco's behavior after the judge declared a mistrial "was so unusual that the juror felt compelled to advise the judge's office," Praul said. "He acted extremely anxious and nervous."
Praul said he "wouldn't want to begin to calculate" how much money the mistrial had cost the county and the litigants.
There also was a human toll. Krantz missed a family funeral in Florida for fear of infecting others, Praul said, and people in the jury pool were fearful of going home and infecting their families.
Had DiCicco called in sick July 13, "we would have rescheduled him. It is that simple," Praul said.
DiCicco's attorney, Brian Lafferty, said his client had felt he needed to speak up, however belatedly, to avoid exposing more people to whatever illness he had.
"He is very sorry for the way he went about it," Lafferty said.
DiCicco declined to comment afterward, but Lafferty said he thought Waite's resolution was fair.
Praul agreed: "The punishment suited the crime."
That punishment, Waite said, will be for DiCicco to learn about the courts by observing three straight days of jury trials. (Outside the courtroom, more than one wag speculated about which judge's courtroom would provide the most punishment.)
Waite said it was a good thing DiCicco had actually been sick or the medicine would have been more extreme.
"He had been ill for the prior week," the judge said. "Had he not been, the penalty would be more severe."