Louisiana Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Appeals court rules 'public intimidation' law is too broad, unconstitutional


By John Breslin | Aug 17, 2018

NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana's attorney general is unlikely to pursue legal action that led to the striking down of a decades-old "public intimidation" law, according to the the attorney representing the plaintiffs in two cases.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Louisiana's "public intimidation" law is too broad and therefore unconstitutional.

"I thought it would be an uphill battle, because it is always hard to challenge a statute," attorney Kearney Loughlin told the Louisiana Record. "But there were significant problems with the statute that criminalizes core speech."

U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Loughlin added, "It is my understanding that the attorney general is not going to pursue this further."

The legislation held that it is unlawful to "use violence, force or threats upon (a person) with the intent to influence his conduct in relation to his position, employment or duty."

"Because the meaning of 'threat' is broad enough to sweep in threats to take lawful, peaceful actions — such as threats to sue a police officer or challenge an incumbent officeholder — (the law) is unconstitutionally overbroad," the appeals court found.

Travis Seals, of Hammond, filed the lawsuit against Tangipahoa Parish. Sheriff's deputies were called out following a complaint that Seals threatened to shoot a neighbor. It was claimed that, after the deputies handcuffed and pepper-sprayed Seals, he threatened to file a complaint against them. He was charged with public intimidation. 

Attorney General Jeff Landry appealed the case through the federal courts.

Loughlin's second client, William Aubin Jr., is suing Livingston Parish. During his arrest, Aubin was charged with public intimidation after telling the deputy: "I'm going to have your job; I'm gonna get you fired."

Loughlin, of the New Orleans law firm, Loughlin and Loughlin, explained that the legislation goes back to 1946, at a time before developments over free speech

The attorney described the legislation as "not something nefarious, mostly stupid." Surprisingly, it has never been challenged previously, he said, adding that the appeals court found it was "way too broad."

He added, "Police officers need to be trained to know the First Amendment, (and) that there is no more contempt of cop."

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