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Peace on Earth, and Good Will Toward Some Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 09:46 AM

There’s nothing better to get you in the mood for the holidays than the lavishly decorated stores, the inescapable Christmas music playing on the radio, and the beautiful Christmas lights up and down the street—unless you live in Denham Springs, Louisiana, that is.  There, the Christmas spirit is hard to find in Sarah Henderson’s neighborhood.  Apparently, the mother of four was involved in a year-long dispute with some of her neighbors, whom she accuses of spreading “vicious lies” about her.  So, she deliberately fashioned her Christmas lights to look like a human hand with the middle finger extended in the gesture universally known as “flipping the bird.”  The not-so-subtle message was received loudly and clearly by the neighbors, prompting a visit by the local police.  They told Henderson that her display violated obscenity laws and she was ordered to take them down or face a $400 fine.  Although Henderson complied, she’s not happy about it and now she has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.  The ACLU has contacted the Denham Springs police, saying that the city has no right to restrict Ms. Henderson’s First Amendment right to free expression just because some people find it vulgar or offensive.  Bolstered by the support, Henderson says she’s thinking of replacing the middle finger with a swastika.  So much for peace on Earth . . . .


Speaking of First Amendment rights, did you know you have a First Amendment right to dress up as Bigfoot?  That was the recent ruling from the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which had to consider the strange case of Jonathan Doyle.  One day in September 2009, Doyle decided to dress up as Bigfoot and wander around Mount Monadnock State Park, filming some of the encounters he had with passing hikers.  When he returned a week or so later to do the same thing, a park ranger ordered him to leave because he didn’t have a “special use” permit (which, under New Hampshire law, requires 30 day notice and taking out a $2 million insurance policy as part of the application process).  Doyle fought the special use permit policy in court, with the aid of New Hampshire’s branch of the ACLU, as violating his constitutionally protected right to free speech.  The state Supreme Court sided with Doyle, finding the special use regulation to be unconstitutionally overbroad and unreasonably burdensome—thus safeguarding everyone’s right to walk around in a public park dressed up as Bigfoot.


The ACLU has been busy lately in Oklahoma as well, filing a complaint with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints against Muskogee County district judge Mike Norman.  Last month, Judge Norman sentenced 17 year-old Tyler Alred to 10 years probation in connection with an intoxication manslaughter charge; Alred had been the driver in a December 3, 2011 crash that killed Alred’s friend and passenger John Luke Dum.  As one of the conditions of avoiding prison time, Judge Norman ordered Alred to regularly attend church over the 10 year sentence.  The ACLU considers this a violation of religious liberty and a “disregard” for the U.S. Constitution.  Knowing that judges have considerable discretion in imposing sentences, I call it a good way to put a clearly troubled kid back on the right path instead of dooming him forever for a tragic and horrific mistake.


And if you don’t like creative sentencing, then you won’t agree with Racine County Circuit Court Judge Tim Boyle of Wisconsin, either.  Judge Boyle was faced with the case of Corey Curtis, a 44 year-old man who has fathered 9 children with six different women, and who owes $90,000 in child support.  After Curtis pleaded no contest to felony bail jumping and failure to pay child support, Judge Boyle imposed a condition on Curtis’ sentence of 3 years’ probation: no more procreating.  “Common sense dictates you shouldn’t have kids you can’t afford,” Judge Boyle said at the hearing.  “It’s too bad the court doesn’t have the authority to sterilize.”  Actually, this isn’t the first time that judges have ordered a party to stop breeding; the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld it in a 2001 case in which the defendant couldn’t show that he was financially capable of supporting children.  A Kentucky judge earlier this year ordered a father of 12 children (by 4 different women) who had failed to keep up with child support obligations to refrain from “any sexual intercourse” for the entire 1–5 year term of parole.  And in 2008, a Texas judge ordered a 20 year-old mother who had failed to protect her daughter from abuse not to get pregnant while on probation.  So, the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing apparently only applies if you can afford the kids in the first place.


Yes, judges have a lot of discretion in the sentences they impose.  Sometimes, though, all that weighty responsibility gets to them and they just want to have a little fun.  Such was the case recently with U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of the Southern District of Texas (Victoria Division).  Judge Costa was faced with a breach of contract case over the sale of Akaushi cattle (native to Japan and renowned for the high quality of their meat).  Earlier this year, Bear Ranch LLC filed suit against Heartland Beef (which claims to be the sole source of Akaushi cattle in the U.S.) over the restrictions imposed in a sales contract Bear Ranch entered into when it purchased Akaushi cattle from Heartland.  Then another company, Twinwood Cattle Company, tried to intervene in the lawsuit.  In a November 1, 2012 order, Judge Costa denied Twinwood’s motion to join in the lawsuit, but he had a little fun with his opinion—liberally sprinkling it with Western-flavored, cattle-ranching references.  Pointing out that both Bear Ranch and Heartland had “momentarily ceased stomping their hooves at each other to join forces in opposition to Twinwood’s motion,” Judge Costa ruled that Twinwood’s motion to “join the rodeo” “must be put out to pasture.”  Although he acknowledged Twinwood’s attempts to “beef up its argument,” the judge ultimately denied the company’s efforts to join the ongoing lawsuit since “some culling of the herd is appropriate.”


Hey, at least he didn’t say “Happy Trails.”

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