William Barboza, the Connecticut-dwelling freedom lover who mailed in his speeding ticket payment with the message "fuck your shitty town bitches" scrawled across the form, has been vindicated by a federal judge. Barboza's ordeal began in 2012, when he was pulled over for speeding in the cruelly named town of Liberty, an hour and a half west of Poughkeepsie. Then 22, he pleaded guilty by mail, and when paying his fine, took a little artistic license, scratching out "Liberty on the form and replacing it with "Tyranny," then adding the coarsest zinger he could come up with at the time.

The town clerk was disturbed by Barboza's bombast, as was a local judge, who asked the county prosecutor's office to take a look at the form and see whether the folks over there could find a crime on it. The Sullivan County District Attorney's Office came up with aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor punishable by as much as a year in prison. The town then rejected Barboza's payment and summoned him to court, where cops arrested him. The charge was subsequently thrown out because it violated the First Amendment, so Barboza sued with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Last week in White Plains, the judge ruled that the Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Robert Zangla violated Barboza's First Amendment rights by drawing up the harassment charge when he should have known better. Zangla's defense was that he did not think there was a constitutional problem with the charge, but he and others admitted saying at the time that Barboza might bring a free speech defense.

"It almost sounds like [the arresting detective] and [Sullivan County District Attorney James] Farrell knew the arrest was unconstitutional but were willing to go forward and wait and see if plaintiff would realize it," Judge Cathy Seibel wrote. "I’m not sure that’s what [Zangla] means, I hope not."

Seibel tossed part of the lawsuit targeting the arresting officers, saying they couldn't be expected to buck the order of a district attorney. The village could still be on the hook, though. Cops in Liberty haven't been trained on the First Amendment since 2000, and they made more than 60 arrests for aggravated harassment from 2003 to 2012. NYCLU lawyers argue that shows the village has created an environment ripe for rights violations. Seibel wrote that notion "is most unlikely," but debatable enough that she is calling for the village to defend itself at a to-be-scheduled trial.

The most fun part of the ruling [pdf] is a sampling of utterances that got people arrested in the sleepy town of Liberty, population 9,885. Utterances such as:

  • "Calling someone a slut and saying go fuck yourself."
  • "Repeatedly stating fuck you and bitch"
  • "Talking about sexual acts on a police department phone line."
  • "'I'm going to run you and your tow trucks off the road, see how much that will cost you.'"
  • "You better watch your ass in town."

Actually, those last two sound kind of serious, like "true threats" or "fighting words," which are actual legal terms.