Be advised that protesting proposed toll hikes in public is now against the law in South Jersey.

Gov. Corzine held a town-hall meeting in Cape May County on Saturday, promoting his plan to raise tolls to pay off state debt. The event was held at a local high school; the governor's office beseeched the public to attend.

One of those who showed up was Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, N.J., and a former Republican candidate for governor. Lonegan, an outspoken opponent of Corzine's plan, heads a conservative advocacy group.

He and about 10 compatriots were standing outside the high school, holding small signs and handing out leaflets. They were not disrupting the event. But when local police asked them to move across a road away from the school, Lonegan refused. So they handcuffed him, frisked him and took him away.

"It took six or seven cops," Lonegan said. "I'm worse than John Dillinger."

The charge? Defiant trespass.

Arresting Lonegan was an absurd over-reaction. Lonegan has rubbed plenty of people the wrong way over the years, but Corzine invited people to this town-hall meeting to express their views - good, bad or obnoxious. How can a citizen trespass at a public school at a public event hosted by the governor?

The governor's office insists it had nothing to do with the arrest, although Lonegan said the officer told him, "The governor doesn't want you to put out fliers."

However this tempest got started, it's time to set it right. Local school and municipal officials said yesterday that they wanted the charges dropped. That's exactly what should happen.