INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Thursday said a southeastern Indiana man’s online rants against the judge who handled his divorce went beyond the limits of protected free speech.
Upholding Dan Brewington’s 2011 conviction for intimidation, the court said his rants about arson and beatings clearly threatened the safety of the judge and crossed the boundaries of his right to free speech.
“Fear for one’s reputation is often the price of being a public figure, or of involvement in public issues. But fear for one’s safety is not,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote.
Although Brewington’s blog included references to arson and beatings, Brewington said he didn’t mean for them to be taken literally, but the court said it “saw through” that claim.
“In fact, they may be even more insidious because they show a persistent, single-minded obsession, not just an isolated outburst or mere venting. To the extent Defendant attempted to veil his threats behind self-serving disclaimers and supposed ‘hypotheticals,’ the victims saw through that pretext — as did the jury, and as do we,” the justices wrote.
Brewington’s attorney did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The case drew the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, the conservative Eagle Forum, constitutional scholars and the James Madison Center for Free Speech, represented by Republican lawyer James Bopp.
The dispute started when the judge in Brewington’s divorce case ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation before considering giving him visitation rights to his children. A psychologist said he believed Brewington was potentially violent.
Brewington reacted by writing scathing attacks about the judge and psychologist in letters and online, and made it clear that he knew where they lived, the ruling said. Court documents said Brewington posted on Facebook, “this is like playing with gas and fire, and anyone who has seen me with gas and fire knows that I am quite the accomplished pyromaniac.”