Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

ACLU Secures Release of LaRue Ford, Michigan Woman Jailed 11 Days for Swearing to Herself

A Michigan woman spent 11 days behind bars for cursing to herself in a county clerk’s office before a retiring superior court judge mercifully overruled the judge who jailed her and ordered her

LaRue Ford, 49, was released from the Berrien County Jail on Friday. She was jailed on the orders of Judge Dennis Wiley on December 18 after she was heard cursing to herself out of frustration over being given the run-around while attempting to clear up a traffic ticket.

On her second trip to the county clerk’s office to settle the $50 fine, she used profane language as she left the room. When Ford returned to the courtroom to pay the fine, Judge Wiley ordered her arrested. She had no previous criminal record.

“It wasn’t necessary,” Ford told WOOD. “It wasn’t even necessary to put me through all of this. I know this is just the beginning.”

The American Civil Liberties Union learned of Ford’s case and came to her rescue. At the request of the ACLU, retiring Superior Court Judge Alfred Butzbaugh overruled Wiley and reduced Ford’s bond. She had tried to free herself immediately following her arrest by posting $500 of a $5,000 bond, but she was denied freedom because she was in the process of moving to Indiana and had no permanent address.

Judge Butzbaugh allowed Ford to post the $500 to secure her release.

“I’m free. You know, free,” Ford said as she left the Berrien County Jail just before 4 p.m. on Friday. “I guess right now I’m just speechless,” she added. “I’m tired. I’ve just been through so much.”

Ford is due back in court on January 4 to face contempt charges. A new judge will hear the case against her.

Judge Wiley’s courtroom isn’t the only place in America where swearing can result in legal consequences. This June in Middleborough, Massachusetts, residents approved a measure that bans all public cursing and imposes a $20 fine for offenders.

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