An election day dustup in New Castle, New Hampshire is getting some wider attention.
An argument over the removal of Democratic political signs, during which the F-word was used, is headed to court Tuesday, when a judge will be asked to decide if the F-bombs were free speech or fighting words.In legal peril is Eric Rieseberg, being brought up on "class A misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and criminal threatening." The "victim" is lawyer Ryan Russman. What happened?
The disorderly charge alleges that on Nov. 4, 2008, Rieseberg said to attorney Ryan Russman, "You're a f-ing (expletive) and words to provoke a violent reaction," according to the complaint by New Castle Police Chief James Murphy. The threatening charge alleges Rieseberg "put another person in fear" when he crossed Route 1B in New Castle, entered Russman's "personal space" and raised his voice, yelled, shook his arms and hands "in a manner which appeared to nearly strike (Russman) in the face" and "leading him to fear physical contact."Let's break from the story for some quick Googling of the dramatis personae.
The controversy began on the morning of Nov. 4, when Rieseberg was in his yard removing political signs that were planted there without his permission, according to documents filed by Rieseberg's attorney, Stephen Jeffco. While Rieseberg pulled the signs, Jeffco reported to the court, Russman walked past with his leashed dog and began yelling, "What are you doing? You can't do that. Who do you think you are?"
I believe this is Eric Rieseberg, Founder, President and Chief Operating Officer of "Specialty Hospitals of America." Since there's a political angle, let's look for political contributions… Well, there's nothing for Eric, but it's probably a safe bet that this July 2008 contribution from Carolyn Rieseberg to Republican John Stephen's campaign might indicate a GOP tendency in the domicile, probably on the more conservative side. (Stephen was running against Jeb Bradley for the GOP nomination to oppose Congresswoman/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter. Stephen lost to Bradley, who in turn lost to Shea-Porter.)
On the other hand, this is almost certainly Ryan Russman, "New Hampshire DWI & Personal Injury Attorney." Russman even has a blog: nh-dwi-attorney.com. (Modesty doesn't pay when you're in that biz, apparently: Ryan bills himself as "an extremely well-schooled, deeply experienced attorney with a solid winning record.") He shows up on the NH Supreme Court records not for DWI defense, but for trying to spring guys in trouble for felonious sexual assault and possession of child pornography (here and here). Open Secrets shows no political contributions, but "Richard Russman", a former GOP state senator, made a brief splash last year endorsing Obama; I speculate that Richard is Ryan's daddy.
And as for Police Chief Murphy, here is a Rye Reflections article that quotes him extensively in a story about the theft of some items from the town museum last year:
In the past Police Chief James Murphy has expressed the need to be ever vigilant of our surroundings. The experience this past year of the shameful use of abandoned Fort Stark in providing a haven for illicit drug use and the placement of graffiti showing anger, frustration, and resentment is a case in point. "Yes," as the chief points out, "here in New Castle, the Fort Stark situation has been out of sight, out of mind, yet the ever-present threat of vandalism, robbery, drug deals gone bad and even discovery of a dead body is not beyond the realm of possibility."Not that that actually happened. It's just not beyond the realm of possibility.
So (so far) we have a cranky, bald, Republican geezer pissed off that Democrats have put signs up on his property, confronted by a litigious left-leaning lawyer. (I would have put a couple more adjectives in there before "lawyer", but, frankly, Ryan seems like the kind of guy who would sue me for them.) Add in a police chief with a flair for the dramatic and an active imagination.
Anyone who has read my blog for more than three seconds can probably guess with whom my sympathies lie in this case. But let's read on, because it gets even better:
Rieseberg responded by asking, "Who the (F-) are you?" according to Jeffco.You know those times you kick yourself because, long after the opportunity has passed, you think of exactly the right thing you should have said? I think that never happens to Eric Rieseberg: he comes up with the exact right words on the spot.
At that point, Jeffco wrote, Russman "forced his business card onto" Rieseberg, "who was taken back believing Russman was attempting to solicit him as a client". After reading the card, Rieseberg said, "Ryan Russman, you are a (F-ing expletive)," according to Jeffco.
Police reports indicate Russman immediately phoned police to say he felt threatened. A statement by Russman filed with the court says he was "quite nervous and frightened and believed he was about to strike me." According to a statement by witness Debbie Orloff, she was riding her bicycle in the area when she saw Rieseberg holding a pile of Democratic political signs, standing in "a menacing posture" and yelling at Russman.Not that it matters, but I would bet this is Debbie. She seems nice, for a corporate vice-president.
In a motion to the court, Chief Murphy said Rieseberg's "language combined with physical gestures and in the context of the incident shows that the (F-) word is used to provoke physical violence."Kids in search of a career, please note: if you are a lawyer, you can do a Google search for a bad word and bill your client for it. And here I bet you've been doing it for free.
"His use of the language," Murphy wrote, was "not an exercise in free speech."
In response, Jeffco filed a motion stating he conducted an internet search of the F- word and found 663 million uses "within ten seconds" and results running the "gamut from nouns, adjectives to strong emphatic."
No ordinary person would have been provoked into violence under the circumstances, Jeffco reported, adding, "Ryan Russman is not an ordinary person in that an ordinary person would not have placed his nose in other people's business without expecting that behavior to provoke a response."So, if I get this straight: Rieseberg is in court because he used language that could "provoke physical violence" but didn't.
Other comments from Jules Crittenden (who also plays on our state motto); he links to Dan Riehl's Gran Torino connection, Aussie Tim Blair, Dan at Protein Wisdom, where the commenters comment on attorney Russman in ways we are scared to.
Granite State trivia: New Castle has the highest per-capita income ($67,695) in the state, beating second-place Hollis ($44,936) by over $22K. This is how you get a Tuesday morning altercation between a corporation president and a lawyer, witnessed by a corporate VP.