Harassment charges filed on area resident

October 8 – A local person faces $264.75 in harassment charges for a non-traffic summary offense for emailing the wife of a mayoral candidate after being asked to stop.

Because this is a local situation, News Talk 103.7FM is not revealing names because we’re trying to be mindful of the people involved.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the charges this morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll said, “It’s pretty extraordinary really. It is a summary ticket for harassment. Now a summary offense, what that means is this is graded like a traffic ticket, so it’s merely a fine. This isn’t something that’s going to show up on a permanent criminal record, but in Pennsylvania, the crime of harassment is defined as if you have the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person and if you engage in some course of conduct or repeatedly communicate with someone that serves no legitimate purpose. That’s sort of the umbrella definition of harassment.”

Apparently in this situation, the mayoral candidate’s wife notified this person that the wife did not want any more communications from this person.

Barkdoll said, “That’s the key part of this case. That was communicated to the defendant. Defendant nonetheless continued to send a bunch of emails to this person and then the mayoral candidate’s wife calls the Chambersburg Police and I guess shows this paper trail. Here’s the day I notified this person. I wanted no more contact. Here’s the chain of emails that this person kept sending to me. So the police filed this charge of harassment. Essentially the defendant violated the no contact provisions. The defendant in this case might have some defenses. They would have had the option of pleading not guilty. It would go before the local magistrate court for a hearing but the defendant in this case I think is saying I don’t want to bother with all that. I’m just going to pay the fine and we’re going to move on and avoid further publicity or complications related to this. It is an odd situation. I can’t say I’ve seen harassment charges over the years based on just group emails that are being sent around the people, but technically one has the right to make those kind of complaints to the police and I think the police in this case were constrained to file the charge because this complainant had evidence that he or she had asked that there be no more email communications sent.”

Jansen said, “I’m getting a little disturbed that we’re starting to get to a point where someone’s so easily fined. Social media certainly has changed our world. I get that, but I’m a little nervous that we can easily say that someone, again, it’s the definition of harassment. We just talked about how the National School Board Association asked the federal government and the directive has these terms of harassment which are vague and not clearly defined. I know of another case where text messages back and forth between a group of people and I saw these text messages. I think they were equally ugly on both sides, quite frankly, and that person, one on the one side also got fined for harassment based on ugly text messages and the level on both sides I think was fairly equal. I think there might be a cross-filing and I’m anxious to see if it will be handled equally, but I worry that we’re getting into this place where, first of all we’re wasting the police’s time with these kind of things, charges, in terms of where do we draw the line? Because we know social media gets very, very ugly and are we going to get to this point where we’re going to define a charge-able offense of harassment by the words? They could have easily just dumped her emails without reading them. They didn’t have to read them or block them themselves.”

Ryan asked, “What about a public figure here? Does that play into it? Just because you don’t like it and you said please don’t send me anymore, is there some relief because this mayoral candidate’s wife is a public figure?”

“Maybe,” Barkdoll said, “A mayoral candidate’s wife, it’s unlikely the court would necessarily deem her a quote unquote public figure under the legal definition of it. Although it is an argument. I can envision that argument being made by a defendant in court. And look, we all, probably everyone listening to this you just get inundated every day with emails, whether it’s solicitations or what. I think most people take the position well look I have the right just to delete these. I don’t have to read everything that comes into me and again, I think this would have been a defense. I think, though, where this defendant went awry is that there’s apparently this specific communication saying effective immediately there’s to be no more email, no more communication with me and then when the defendant continued to send emails, that’s what triggered the technical charge of harassment. Normally you see these charges, by the way, it’s almost always in the context of domestic disputes or a boyfriend/girlfriend dispute where someone is just making repeated telephone calls to someone and the person says don’t call me anymore. I don’t want to hear any more from you and then they’ll call them 40 times overnight. Clearly that’s harassment and that’s normally what you see charged. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a charge exactly like this where it’s a charge based on unsolicited emails that were being sent to the person and we don’t know what the content of those emails were, but presumably they were things related to local government, local politics, not necessarily specific about this mayoral candidate’s wife. Now I can’t say I know that because I’ve not seen the emails, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the fact pattern here.”

Jansen pointed out, “There wasn’t a charge of any kind of a threat. This is what bothers me. Now domestics of course we know sometimes things like that are a sign that something could escalate. When you are related into the political field and somebody’s trying to get your attention based on their objection to something politically, that’s not going to escalate necessarily into something where I don’t think you could make that claim. There’s not a charge that she was threatening them in this. It was just repeated emails, so once again, they had the option of blocking that email. And even for a domestic, why would you take it to the point of going and filing a charge if you have the option, depending if it’s like a cell phone and they’re calling, you can block that caller. You don’t have to keep taking calls 40 times a night. You don’t have to let that person keep emailing you and just because you said please stop emailing me? I’m sorry I don’t think that rises to the level and I’m very nervous that we’re going to start saying, couldn’t I do a formal complaint against a telemarketer that keeps sending me emails that even when I said unsubscribe and they keep coming? I wouldn’t think of clogging up our legal system with that, I’d block it.”

Barkdoll said, “Remember this Pennsylvania harassment definition, it doesn’t have to be threatening. It can be annoying and that’s where I think that this falls into that realm. It’s annoyance. I don’t think there’s a suggestion here that there was anything threatening. It was in the realm of annoying. Now that leads to the question to the point you’re making, well at what point does the volume become annoying? If it’s one or two emails I don’t think it’s rising to that level, but again when you have the mayoral candidate’s wife saying no more emails and I don’t know how many then subsequent emails got sent after that. I think what the police are relying on is the idea that it was annoying. I didn’t read anything in the ticket that would suggest that there was anything threatening. Or alarming would be another word in that definition. I think this all came into the category of just the annoyance of it.”

Jansen said, “But they had the option of blocking them and stopping the annoyance and they didn’t do that and I think if you have the option of eliminating it by doing that, you don’t have a right to take up time and money and headache in the system of them making that complaint when they had the simple option of blocking her.”

Ryan said, “The other thing here is I say the person that the summons for summary case non-traffic, I say this is a badge of honor, quite frankly.”

Barkdoll said, “I don’t know if this is going to become a campaign issue, but you could almost envision the opponent using this as somewhat of a campaign issue. The other thing I’ll just say about the blocking, I think that’s true. Any email provider, there’d be a way you could block an email address. Although I think there’s another issue here. That maybe some of these emails weren’t directly coming from the defendant. After the no-contact, no-communication was sent, there may be a scenario that the defendant was sending an email to someone else saying now you send this to that person, which would have been a way around any kind of a block. I don’t know that that’s what happened. I’m simply pointing out that there’s a number of different scenarios here and based on the face of the ticket, we simply don’t know exactly how this unfolded.”

Jansen said, “Well with that, I would agree. If they’re getting around that then, the capability of that person to stop them, then I would agree with it.”