Public cursing at ex-girlfriend leads to criminal conviction

Friday, May 20, 2011

Don’t curse an ex-girlfriend in public. That appears to be the hard lesson learned by a Wisconsin man who apparently couldn’t control his emotions when seeing his former love.

William J. Zarda encountered a former girlfriend in a Target store in Marathon County. (The court opinion gives no date.) According to the opinion, Zarda yelled “fuck you bitch” in the store and then followed her to another store’s parking lot where he yelled at her husband. The criminal complaint contended that the ex-girlfriend’s children became “hysterical.”

Zarda faced criminal charges of disorderly conduct for his behavior. Wisconsin’s disorderly conduct law provides: “Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.”

Zarda filed a pretrial motion, contending that the state’s disorderly conduct law was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. The state circuit court rejected his motion, leading him to plead no contest. After the circuit court found him guilty, he appealed.

The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District Three affirmed his conviction in its May 17 decision in State v. Zarda. In his appeal, Zarda contended that he had a First Amendment right to use profanities against someone he didn’t like. Rejecting his argument, the appeals court emphasized that Zarda’s conviction encompassed not just his profane speech but also his conduct in accosting the ex-girlfriend’s husband and scaring her children.

“The disorderly conduct charge was not based solely on his profane language: rather, it was based on all of his conduct,” the appeals court wrote.

The court also noted that several other Wisconsin appellate courts had rejected constitutional challenges to the disorderly conduct law.

Rick Cveykus, Zarda’s attorney, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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