Lawyer’s Social Media Comments Triggers Free Speech Fight In Kentucky

Unknown-1There is a free speech controversy brewing in Louisville, Kentucky where a lawyer is facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening Kentucky governor Any Beshear. James Gregory Troutman, 53, made uniquely stupid and disturbing statements opposing Beshear’s lockdown. However, the comments could easily be understood as hyperbolic and hateful but not actually threatening.  For the free speech community, these terroristic threat laws are written so broadly that they threaten political speech.  This could well be such a case where stupidity is being treated as criminality.

Troutman is charged with one count of third-degree terroristic threatening for posts on social media April 16 and April 20.

In one of the posts, Troutman said someone should ask Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear at a press conference about “his thoughts on William Goebel.” Goebel is a former Kentucky governor who was shot in 1900.

Later, Troutman discussed a rally to protest business closings. A Facebook commenter asked whether Beshear would be “shooting plates,” a reference to the authorities taking pictures of license plates of those who defy orders to attend religious services.

Troutman responded by saying “With any luck the gov will be the one at whom the shooting will be directed.”

The comments were obviously moronic, but I fail to see how they meet the statutory definition of the crime and even more importantly can be prosecuted without violating the First Amendment.

Here is the state statute:

Section 508.080 – Terroristic threatening in the third degree
(1) Except as provided in KRS 508.075 or 508.078, a person is guilty of terroristic threatening in the third degree when:

(a) He threatens to commit any crime likely to result in death or serious physical injury to another person or likely to result in substantial property damage to another person; or
(b) He intentionally makes false statements for the purpose of causing evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation.
(2) Terroristic threatening in the third degree is a Class A misdemeanor.

KRS 508.080

He clearly was not making these statements under subsection b to “intentionally make[] false statements form the purpose of causing evacuation.” I also do not see the clear evidence that he was actually threatening to commit murder.  His defense is obvious that he was engaging in the tiresome but common reference to the need for someone to shoot a political figure.

Yesterday, New Yorker journalist Hendrik Hertzberg was criticized for asking on Twitter if it was time for a military coup.  I never thought that his tweet was serious or that he really wanted a military coup.  Such heated and hyperbolic language is all-too-common in this age of rage.

Much has been made of the fact that in 2007 Troutman brought his own suspension of two years for firing an arrow from a crossbow that ended up going through a neighbor’s garage door and  lodging into a refrigerator.  Troutman insisted that he had taken a large amount of allergy medicine and pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. However, those charges were dismissed after his completion of his diversion program.

The Kentucky Supreme Court opinion that reinstated him to law practice stated that, while there was an instance of practicing in violation of the suspension, the investigation found him to be of “good moral character” and was “worthy of public trust.”

Troutman admitted immediately to the posts when he was contacted by police.  The police decided the comments were “threatening to commit a crime likely to result in death or serious physical injury to the Kentucky Governor.”

If that is the standard, the scope of this criminal law could devour a wide array of political speech.  I have been a critic of the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and hereand here). A teenager has sparked a national debate about blasphemy in France after an Instagram post calling Islam a “religion of hate”. Indeed, France has emerged as one of the greatest threats to free speech in the West and we continue to face calls for European-style speech crimes, including calls by its President on the floor of the House of Representatives. Not long ago a teenager in France has triggered a debate over its plunge into speech crimes and regulation after characterizing Islam as “a religion of hate.”

Terroristic threat provisions can serve that same function in censoring or criminalizing speech. Those concerns are magnified when used to punish speech directly against a politician.

None of this excuses Troutman’s comments or approves of such reckless and obnoxious comments.  However, the greatest danger in this case seems to be  threats to free speech rather than the governor.  Troutman took no action or said nothing else that indicated that he actually wanted to shoot Beshear.  The implications for criminalizing speech from such a broad interpretation is evident.

What do you think?

19 thoughts on “Lawyer’s Social Media Comments Triggers Free Speech Fight In Kentucky”

  1. “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    – Robert A. Heinlein

  2. Beshar is a Democrat and Democrats are working hard to impose a totalitarian government with suspension of the very civil rights they claim to champion. Troutman was merely calling it like he sees it. As for his crossbow bolt going through a neighbor’s garage and into the his refrigerator, so what? Unless someone was in the garage, there was no endangerment.

  3. While this Troutman guy is a poor poster-child for free speech, his right to make inane statements does need to be protected. The Atlantic just published a piece where “controlled” speech was being justified. The Atlantic and many others seem to be taking on the role of Robespierre, but they need to remember his fate.

    1. It is always true that if we do not protect the most offensive and heinous speech of idiots. There will be no one to protect our speech.

  4. The comments were obviously moronic,

    The term moronic doesn’t mean what you fancy it means.

    One problem with the various lockdowns is that a number of state and local governments have failed to set priorities. in the regulations they employed to limit the spread of the virus. This has been most manifest in Michigan.

    The problem with Church services is that people crowd together, shake hands, and they sing. End the singing, dispense your congregations from weekly attendance, and have those attending spread out. The nave of an ordinary parish can hold about 50 people properly spread out. This will cramp the style of evangelical megachurches and a small number of Catholic parishes, but it will work passably with just about everyone else. Abstaining from weekly attendance requires a special episcopal dispensation in liturgical denominations. I don’t think it typically does in other protestant bodies. Just have parishioners with names ending in A-L to attend one week, and those with names ending in M-Z attend the next week and ask people w/o dependent children to attend the 8:00 o’clock or 11:00 o’clock service.

    Its doubtful people are contagious in outdoor settings except at concerts, sporting events, parades, and street fairs, none of which are being held right now. Someone might be if he sneezed within six feet of you, but how often has that happened to you recently? The vast majority have masks in my area.

    As for indoor settings, if we can get the supply chain back ups cleared and the protective equipment broadly distributed, people not able to telecommute should be able to return to work if their job does not incorporate standing near others and having conversations over a certain volume. Again, masks.

    For worksites which cannot operate with social distancing, you need strict community health measures. Protective equipment, temperature checks, furloughs for employees over 60, and furloughs for employees over 50 with a high BMI.

    1. Quarantine those Americans over age 65 with underlying health issues.
      the rest will be fine. Ever hear of the word “antibody”?

    1. I think you’re right. But, I also think that Democrats have engaged in so much speech and action, like Snoop’s Bang pointed at Trump, Shakespeare’s Caesar, killing Caesar dressed as Trump by multiple stabbing, every night in public, Madonna’s I dream of Blowing up the White House, Kathy Griffin’s bloody severed head of Trump, and Johnny Depp, “It’s been a long time since an actor assassinated a president. Maybe it’s time,” that together it’s all worse than slander, and may trigger actual assassination attempt! This is targeting the President! Constantly calling him Hitler, is dehumanizing him; it’s ok to kill Hitler!

        1. “Calling Trump “Hitler” is an insult to Hitler.”
          *****************
          And you’d never wanna do that, right Chuck? Were on the sauce when you typed this?

  5. Couldn’t they just fix the law:

    (a) threatening accompanied by a substantial step towards . . . .

    I also hate when necessary conditions are first and sufficient conditions like “when” are latter.

    There should be some additional step towards

    In torts, we say words alone are not sufficient. That you need some volitional act.

    I would go further, bc its criminal law, and say beyond mere preparation.

    This is very rather concerning for 1st A.

      1. George – you can keep trolling me, I actually like it in my twisted mind.

        I have grown accustomed to thinking of myself as Dorothy with her little dog in a basket, and I must say, I am ready to pull back the curtain and meet Oz 😈👿😈

        😉. It’s a fun movie. 😉

        Tangentially, I do agree with you on some things. Not the baby argument. But other stuff, yes.

        Trust me, there are plenty of late 20s and 30 yo having kids.

  6. “James Gregory Troutman, 53, made uniquely stupid and disturbing statements opposing Beshear’s lockdown.”

    Americans everywhere are rising up with clenched fists, seething anger and a renewed vigor to speak against the state governors who are holding us hostage. We have lost our jobs, our businesses, despair is high, fear is everywhere, we are being told our economy will be as bad as the Great Depression. Our country has been brought to her knees. Shortages abound in stores reminding us of Jimmy Carter’s humiliating presidency. These democrat governors are holding us prisoners with some encouraging Americans and police to cite or arrest us.

    Troutman is not the only one wishing harm befalls the tyrants in IL, NY, CA, KY, VA, NJ and so many more

    thank you Maxine Waters for showing us how to respond

    1. Haha. I love the thought of Pravda Faux News inspired fury causing the spittle to fly out and hit your old-school monitor. I know you’ve not heard this in the echo silo loony-bin, but Republican Governors are also following the medical experts in making the best and safest decisions for the lives of their citizens.

      this is to “I may dribble occasionally, but I have a ‘hannity was here’ tattoo across my lower back” peggie

      You all know who this is from

  7. Here is what you do, Buckeroo. File a civil rights lawsuit in federal court under Sec. 1983, and for conspiracy and for attorney fees. Demand a jury trial. Free speech under the First Amendment. Maybe freedom of association too.

  8. “Much has been made of the fact that in 2007 Troutman brought his own suspension of two years for firing an arrow from a crossbow that ended up going through a neighbor’s garage door and lodging into a refrigerator. Troutman insisted that he had taken a large amount of allergy medicine and pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. However, those charges were dismissed after his completion of his diversion program,”
    *********************
    I think the guy has a problem and needs help.

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