A Vermont State’s Attorney Prosecuted A College Student For An Overheard Phone Call. Why Is She Still Employed?

In October of last year, police charged Wesley Richter, a University of Vermont continuing education student, with disorderly conduct after university officials said he used “explicitly racist and threatening language” against black students and diversity initiatives on campus. Richter was overheard in a phone call with his mother, though exactly what Richter allegedly said has not been made public.unknown. Of course, what he said doesn’t matter, unless he was planning a crime, which he was not. He was talking to his mother, and a student who overheard the discussion took offense at what was said. Richter, through his lawyer, denied saying anything racist, but again, it doesn’t matter. Saying racist things in a phone conversation cannot be a crime. It’s bad manners. It’s disrespectful to those listening. A school may be able to justly find some kind of violation to a reasonable and neutral civility code involving words but not content. But an overheard phone conversation cannot be a crime. It is mere words.

Nevertheless, the University of Vermont, the University of Vermont Police Department and the Chittenden (County) state’s attorney’s office in the person of Sarah George, the State’s Attorney, prosecuted the case against Richter. George is a graduate of the University of Vermont Law School, where presumably they taught constitutional law. There is no excuse for this.

Richter’s lawyer, Ben Luna, argued that George didn’t have probable cause to bring the misdemeanor charge, and Superior Court Judge David Fenster agreed. In a statement, Luna called the dismissal a victory for free speech and the First Amendment. “The court’s ruling reinforces my opinion that this matter should never have been brought,” he said.

The court’s ruling also reinforces my opinion that Sarah George should be disciplined by the bar and fired.

Right at the start, Vermont’s Rule 3.8, as in every other state, makes it clear that prosecutors must not charge anyone with a crime without probable cause:

Rule 3.8. SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PROSECUTOR

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;

The Comments to the rule say in part,

[1] A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence.

The First Amendment makes it beyond argument that the government may not punish or seek to punish citizens for the content of their speech. Since the only evidence that George had that a misdemeanor had been committed was a third party complaint about the content of Richter’s speech in a conversation over the phone with his mother, she did not have legal or sufficient evidence to charge or prosecute Richter. As a lawyer and a prosecutor she had to know that. If she knew it, she was knowingly abusing her power, and should be suspended from the practice of law.

If she didn’t know it, then she is incompetent and not fit to practice. She should be fired.

Incredibly, George said she thought the case was strong, but that it was also “a learning experience.” “It’s disappointing, but it’s also good for us to know. It’s a really great decision for us in terms of case law and reasoning, so we know now what this court expects of us,” George said.

Yeah, the court expects you to follow the Constitution. If you have to learn that at this late stage in your legal career, Sarah, you need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe you can sell maple syrup.

She wasn’t through. “What we allege he did, we still allege he did,” she continued.  “It just didn’t rise to the level of a hate crime.”

A phone conversation cannot be a “hate crime.” Speech cannot be a hate crime. “Hate speech” is not a legal designation.

Why is this woman a state prosecutor? Fire her.

If she is not fired, then this totalitarian, illegal, abusive and intimidating prosecution chills free speech, not just on the University of Vermont campus, but in the whole state. A citizen should not have to wait two months, as Richter did, for a judge to declare that the state cannot persecute him for what he is overheard saying, whatever it is.

Fire

Her.

Ah, but this is Vermont, you know, a super-progressive state, one that even elected a socialist U.S. Senator. It is incubating anti-speech, anti-democratic citizens who are just waiting for the day that their party can seize power and make bad speech a crime. The University of Vermont itself is part of that grand plan. It triggered this exercise in intimidation. Then the state’s police added their force to the wrongspeak prosecution, and finally the state, represented by a True Believer. She thinks speech can be a hate crime.

I keep hearing that Democrats expect a “blue wave” in the 2018 elections, and these kinds of episodes better serve as a warning to us of what that blue wave will mean. I don’t ask much of a political party, but respecting and upholding my constitutional rights are one thing I do demand, and it has become vividly, frighteningly clear to me that the current Democratic Party not only won’t do that, it is intent on doing the opposite. That blue wave is going to begin drowning our guaranteed freedoms, and eventually democracy itself. I wonder if enough citizens understand that. I wonder if enough citizens are paying attention, when progressive states give prosecutors like Sarah George the power to charge s student with a crime for what he says to his mother.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

18 responses to “A Vermont State’s Attorney Prosecuted A College Student For An Overheard Phone Call. Why Is She Still Employed?

  1. Other Bill

    More from Ms. George, Esq: It’s possible the state may try to bring charges again, but only if more evidence comes to light, which is unlikely this long after the incident, George said.

    So the only reason the case failed was due to lack of evidence! Of what?
    You nitwit. Amazing.

  2. JP

    If she is breaking the rules can’t someone bring these charges against her?

  3. Arthur in Maine

    More than a decade before I became Arthur in Maine, I was Arthur in Vermont. I moved there after being a very leftist college student, and found the locals had a simple philosophy: “you take care of your business, I’ll take care of my business, you let me know if I piss you off and I’ll do the same fore you, and if that happens we’ll talk about it like neighbors. While we’re at it, let’s keep our hands off each others’ wallets.”

    It didn’t take long for me to realize that this libertarian philosophy made one hell of a lot more sense than the one I espoused, and I came to respect and agree with it. Unfortunately, however, there were several other forces at work: a whole bunch of 60s-era back-to-the-landers (read: hippies) whose commune dreams had failed like they all do, and who decided that gigs in government would pay the rent, and a whole bunch of people from the flatlands who loved the bucolic nature of Vermont (more on THAT below) who thought these young, energetic Vermont (so they thought) kids in government had a better way of doing things.

    Within less than a generation, Vermont changed from being a respectful libertarian state to one controlled by progressives. It has been paying for this ever since.

    Fact is: Vermont is a gorgeous place. You can still hear the echoes of the past there. But it’s fading, fast. For all of its progressive ethos, the state is essentially a back lot in Hollywood – with scenery that looks fabulous until you look behind it, and realize that the whole thing is false fronts propped up by lumber.

    No, scratch that – the progressives killed the lumber industry decades ago.

    There are large pockets of wretched poverty in Vermont, in places where the visitors don’t go. Visit places like Woodstock or Grafton or Weston and you’re still seeing a storybook image of the state. But even a lot of the ski communities are getting threadbare, and there are places in the Northeast Kingdom where the folks are every bit as dependent upon government as they are in your inner city of choice.

    Vermont’s local and state governments essentially survive by taxing the snot out of tourists and second-home owners. But the problem is only getting worse, and it’s all complicated by the fact that a lot of the late-gen Xers and Boomers who grew up in the state don’t understand what it was, and why it used to work.

    Vermont may be the most gorgeous shitshow in the nation. But it’s still a shitshow, and sooner or later, it WILL collapse.

  4. Eternal optometrist

    Remember when liberals used to be for free speech? That was one of the core beliefs. As justice Hugo black said, “I read ‘congress shall make no law abridging’ [the freedom of speech] to mean congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech”.

    If you criminalize speech you don’t agree with, you can certainly criminalize conduct just because you don’t agree with it.

    • Matthew B

      This is an example of progressives vs. classic liberals. Those who are trying to end free speech in the name of tolerance aren’t liberal, they are progressives. They’re both leftists, but the progressives are dangerous.

      Fortunately the ACLU is still liberal. The’ll fight on the side of freedom of speech.

  5. Wayne

    I propose this for Vemont’s State anthem:

  6. Glenn Logan

    Ah, but this is Vermont, you know, a super-progressive state, one that even elected a socialist U.S. Senator. It is incubating anti-speech, anti-democratic citizens who are just waiting for the day that their party can seize power and make bad speech a crime. The University of Vermont itself is part of that grand plan. It triggered this exercise in intimidation. Then the state’s police added their force to the wrongspeak prosecution, and finally the state, represented by a True Believer. She thinks speech can be a hate crime.

    It’s clear that she isn’t just a True Believer, but also that she doesn’t know anything about the law in general. That can’t be a good thing for a person charged with depriving people of their freedom to enforce said law.

    This points to a growing and more troubling problem in our society. It is perhaps (but by no means certainly) more pervasive now on the left than the right, but it wasn’t always so — it doesn’t matter as much what you know as what you believe. Correct-think trumps actual competence (tangential pun welcomed), and as long as you have the correct opinions about the law, on-the-job training is an acceptable price to pay.

    We saw this in the nomination of Matthew Spencer Petersen by President Trump for DC District Judge. Petersen is, by all accounts, a fine, upstanding lawyer, well respected in his field, and manifestly unqualified for the position to which he was nominated. But he had the correct political view of the judicial process, so his actual qualifications as a judge were of secondary importance. The confirmation process thankfully trotted out his ignorance for all to see, and got his nomination withdrawn.

    But all this points to where we are now, on both sides of the ideological sinkhole. What you believe is more important than what you know. There was a time when this would’ve appalled most of us, but alas, that time has passed. Apparently, we’re okay with it now. It will lead to our ruination if not checked.

  7. Steve-O-in-NJ

    With respect, Jack, I think you are aiming a little too low here. Fire Sarah George and the office will just hire another like-minded prosecutor to bring the same kind of charges. She no doubt reports to someone, and that someone reports to the state’s attorney for that county. Maybe even that state’s attorney reports to THE State’s attorney. Someone higher up had to sign off on bringing this action, and whoever that is should also be canned. Then an investigation should be held into the culture that led to the idea that it was all right to charge someone criminally for a private conversation that someone else overheard and didn’t like.

    In the end the First Amendment, like all laws, is only as good as the people who apply it. An line from an episode of Law and Order many years ago is illustrative of where we’re headed. Evidence has emerged that a Hollywood director murdered his wife and New York has issued a warrant for his arrest. The case law is all on New York’s side, but the director’s attorney says that “Gerstein (the case) says whatever Judge Van Ness interprets it to say.” Of course the judge comes down on the director’s side. If judges and prosecutors alike are going to just interpret the hell out of the law to get the results they want, then the law really doesn’t mean much, and equal protection under the law is out the window. Take away equal protection, and you take away people’s faith in the system. Take away people’s faith in the system, and you know the rest.

    There’s no guarantee of this “blue wave” Democrat morale-building talk, and if the Democratic Party keeps acting like this, they are giving the Republican party a dandy amount of bricks to build a pretty good dam against that blue wave happening.

  8. Better Living Through Nihilism

    So what happened to “Habeas Corpus”?

    Some butthurt snowflake claims “OMG that guy did racismz”. Next up what happened to the 1st Amendment? How does a prosecutor think that “hate speech ” is a crime.

    Nefong this bitch.

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