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Fate of NEA’s Leidecker lies in judge’s hands

August 31, 2011

In contrast to the drama that flared outside the courtroom last time, today’s installment in the trial of NEARI’s John Leidecker was a more standard affair, albeit one not without strong arguments on both sides.

During an afternoon hearing in a fourth floor courtroom at the Garrahy complex, defense lawyer Robert Mann and Bristol assistant town solicitor Jeanne Scott squared off with their closing arguments.

Mann argued that emails sent by Leidecker to then-state Representative Gablinske were a form of constitutionally protected parody. The emails consisted of exchanges between “Doug Gablinski” and “Walter Flatus.”

I would have hoped that in this country and in this day and age that poking fun at a state legislator is so clearly within the ambit of the protection of the First Amendment, judge, that his conduct wouldn’t even be questioned.

Mann invoked a series of court decisions, including controversial US Supreme Court cases featuring an extremist church, video games, and depictions of animal cruelty, in defending Leidecker’s actions as legal.

Scott focused in part on how Leidecker used a fictional persona to send his emails — something worse, she said, than doing so anonymously. She also noted that Leidecker posted related signs on Gablinske’s street. Scott said that was “scary” and “creepy.” Regarding Leidecker’s emails, she added:

It seems clear that the sole intent of his transmission was only to go to Mr. Gablinske to mess with his head in the [run-up] to an election. Parody is only fun if somebody hears it; political speech and political discussion only occur is there’s somebody to have the discussion with.

Judge Stephen Isherwood said he will render his verdict on September 14. That happens to be exactly one year after a strong union push helped to defeat Gablinske in a primary election.

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