A Florida man was jailed for cursing out a judge in a letter — sparking a legal battle over free speech.
Derrick Jenkins, 39, fired off an angry tirade at a Palm Beach County judge who dismissed his $500 million lawsuit against the local sheriff’s office related to a seatbelt citation,according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“i will hold you personally liable as a man and you’re not immune to jack s–t,” he wrote to Circuit Judge Howard K. Coates Jr., legal documents show.
“I demand a f—ing investigation,” he wrote, calling him a “f—ing hypocrit [sic] and unfit to serve as judge.”
Jenkins was charged with criminal contempt for his attack “calculated to lessen the authority and dignity of the Court,” the report said.
He was sentenced in April to 30 days in Palm Beach County Jail as well as six months’ probation, court documents show.
But he is appealing the contempt of court conviction, arguing that he has First Amendment rights to criticize the judge.
“I believe when I wrote my documents, I was using free speech,” Jenkins testified this year, the Sun Sentinel said. “I had no intent to cause anyone any harm.”
His lawyers claim the contempt ruling “clearly violated” Jenkins’ constitutional rights and his conviction should be overturned, according to the appeal filed on Oct. 30.
“Such speech is entitled to the highest protection under the First Amendment,” the court papers state, according to the Sun Sentinel.
First Amendment expert Aaron Caplan told the paper he was surprised the judge insisted on charges — but felt it was contempt of court.
“If Mr. Jenkins had written that in a letter and published it in your newspaper, or put it up on the internet, it’s absolutely First Amendment protected,” Caplan told the paper.
“In order to have an orderly and fair justice system, people have to behave themselves in court … disorderly conduct, ranting and raving, insulting the judge, you can be found in contempt of court,” Caplan said.
“If you are a litigant, the things that you say from your mouth in the courtroom and also the papers that you admit for the court’s consideration, all of those could be subject to contempt.”