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First Amendment Protects Lawyer Who Asked to Tickle Kids

Fuzzybunny On at least four occasions in 2008, Charles R. Douglas, a lawyer in Glen Carbon, Ill., allegedly approached parents in a local park and asked if he could tickle their kids. In one case, he asked a mother if she would allow her child to "tickle the fuzzy bunny." No fuzzy bunny was readily visible when he made the request.

In September, local police charged the lawyer with disorderly conduct. At the time, he explained to a local newspaper that he liked to do a "tickle monster" routine with children and that it was simply a "joking thing." He likes to make children laugh and smile, he told the newspaper, and he never touches a child without a parent's permission.

When Douglas went to court on the charge this week, a judge in Madison County dismissed the case, according to a report by the Belleville News-Democrat. Associate Judge Kyle Napp found that Douglas did, in fact, ask to tickle children, but that his requests were protected by the First Amendment.

Douglas' lawyer had argued that his client could be convicted of disorderly conduct only if his requests to tickle constituted "fighting words," which he described as words that "by their very utterance inflict injury or trend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." Judge Napp -- a former prosecutor -- agreed, ruling that Douglas had said nothing that could be considered threatening or intimidating. She explained:

Rather, it was the substance of his statements that bothered, unsettled and concerned the listeners. When one reviews the statements as alleged in the complaint, they may be bizarre, strange, unconventional and potentially abhorrent, but that alone does not relegate the statements to "fighting words."

After the charges were dismissed Wednesday, the News-Democrat reporter who wrote about the case was unable to reach Douglas for comment. It is fair to assume, however, that he was tickled by the outcome.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 27, 2009 at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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