Shamokin woman argues free speech in 'lunatic' actions
SUNBURY - The attorney for a Shamokin woman argued Wednesday morning that his client's alleged swearing and gestures may have annoyed, insulted and alarmed people, but don't constitute an obscenity and are constitutionally protected by freedom of speech.
David Marateck, legal counsel for Beth Alice Barker, 43, of 713 Bear Valley Ave., made that argument during a pre-trial motion hearing before Northumberland County President Judge Robert B. Sacavage that included testimony from two alleged victims, but no ruling.
Barker was held for court Jan. 10 by Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones of Mount Carmel on two counts of harassment and one count of disorderly conduct during a preliminary hearing.
The charges were filed by Coal Township Patrolman Matthew Hashuga in connection with an Aug. 15, 2011, disturbance on Route 61, just north of the Cameron Bridge.
At the time of the hearing, Barker was represented by Attorney Timothy Bowers. Since then, Barker has secured Marateck as her lawyer and appealed Jones' ruling to the Court of Common Pleas, hoping Sacavage dismisses the charges.
Marateck claims there was insufficient evidence presented at the preliminary hearing for Jones to bound the charges over to the Court of Common Pleas.
Young boys saw gestures
At Wednesday's legal proceeding, Assistant District Attorney Michael Toomey called witnesses Michael Garcia, of Shamokin, and Brent Reed, of Coal Township, to testify.
Garcia, the owner of a trucking and towing business who also operates a chicken farm, testified that he was summoned to respond to tow a vehicle involved in an accident at the Cameron Bridge. When he arrived near the scene, Garcia said Barker, who was alone in a vehicle, moved from the passenger side to the driver's side and started yelling profanities at him and his family.
Garcia said his three sons, ages, 10, 9 and 7, along with Reed and his 10-year-old son, were in his vehicle when Barker started cursing them, making obscene gestures and calling him a "loser" and "idiot."
Garcia claimed Barker has constantly harassed him and his family in public places since Sept. 12, 2009. When asked by Toomey how many times he's been harassed, Garcia said, "Over 100 times."
Under cross examination by Marateck, Garcia said he did not call police in every instance, but noted Barker has been cited for similar disturbances.
Barker is a girlfriend to Alfons Keefer, of the same address, who operates a towing business and has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with Garcia over competition involving towing services.
Reed testified that he was with Garcia when Barker started yelling obscenities and making obscene gestures with both hands. He described Barker as acting like a "lunatic."
Freedom of speech?
In his closing argument, Marateck said his client's swearing and gestures may have been insulting, annoying and alarming, but didn't constitute an obscenity. While citing case law that supported his argument, Marateck said Barker's actions are constitutionally protected under freedom of speech.
Toomey said Barker's behavior definitely warranted the charges filed against her and said enough evidence was presented to find her guilty of the offenses.
No decision yet
Sacavage deferred making a ruling in the case and granted Marateck 20 days to file legal briefs, after which Toomey will have 20 days to file a response to Marateck's briefs.
Marateck said if Sacavage rules against his client, he plans to take the case to trial. Toomey reserved comment until Sacavage issues a ruling.