A New Hampshire judge dismissed three disorderly conduct charges this week lodged against a parent who broke a school board’s two-minute speaking rule while voicing his concern over an inappropriate reading assignment given to his 14-year-old daughter.
The dismissal of charges against William Baer, an attorney, by Circuit Court Judge James M. Carroll is considered “by some as an important moment in the history of law enforcement and American free speech,” according to The New Hampshire Union Leader, which reported:
During a trial last summer, Carroll was presented the video of school board meeting when Baer complained to the board after his ninth-grade daughter was assigned the book “Nineteen Minutes” by best-selling author Jodi Picoult of Hanover for an honors English class.
One section of the book contains graphic sexual detail involving the relationship of two young people.
At the meeting, after questioning the board, Baer was not satisfied with board members’ answers and continued questioning the board in a loud voice. He then engaged in a debate with another parent, despite the protests of Superintendent Kent Hemingway.
A police officer in attendance then arrested Baer on three counts of disorderly conduct, actions questioned by Carroll.
Here’s a video of Baer trying to make his point at the Gilford School Board meeting, and his subsequent arrest. Clip via WMUR-TV.
After her father was led out of the building in handcuffs, Marina Baer voiced her own objections. Story continues after video.
“The court does not find the actions of the defendant to be criminal in nature, which is necessary in the ordering of restrictions on a citizen’s liberties in First Amendment considerations. The court finds that the defendant’s action never created a breach of peace sustaining a criminal complaint,” the judge wrote after reviewing the videotape evidence. “The sequence of the arrest actions cause pause by the court as to the chilling, if not silencing of a citizen by the state, for actions which do not warrant a criminal arrest nor conviction.”
“I am obviously pleased that all charges have been dismissed. [The judge’s decision] showed me there still is some justice in our system,” Baer said. “I was fortunate enough to be experienced in the legal system, and also had the determined, talented and effective counsel.”
Court observers were also pleased with the result.
“Nobody knows who told who to do what at a public assembly. These kinds of protests are common at public assemblies,” University of New Hampshire law professor John Greabe said. “It’s a recurring occurrence, but people aren’t usually arrested. This becomes a free speech issue, no question. It doesn’t usually end in an arrest.”